Companies accelerated their hiring in December, adding a robust 257,000 net new jobs in a sign that the labor market finished last year strong, according to a report Wednesday from payroll firm Automatic Data Processing.
The job growth figure exceeded analyst expectations. It was the most net new private-sector jobs since December 2014 and a big jump from a downwardly revised 211,000 positions created in November, ADP said
"Strong job growth shows no signs of abating," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, which assists ADP in preparing the report.
"If this pace of job growth is sustained, which seems likely, the economy will be back to full employment by mid-year," he said. "This is a significant achievement, given that the
last time the economy was at full employment was nearly a decade ago."
The ADP data is watched as a signal of the broader Labor Department jobs report -- which includes private and public sector employment -- to be released Friday.
Economists have been expecting that report to show job growth slowed a bit to 200,000 last month, but the ADP figure could lead to some upward revisions in those forecasts.
The unemployment rate is expected to have held steady at 5%, the lowest level since 2008.
ADP said energy companies, hurt by low oil prices, were the only ones to reduce overall employment last month.
Construction firms, possibly benefiting from mild weather in much of the country, added 24,000 net new jobs in December, up from 5,000 the previous month.
Manufacturers had their second-straight month of hiring gains after shedding jobs for much of the year because the strong dollar hurt exports. Manufacturing firms added 2,000 net new jobs in December, although that was down from 4,000 the previous month.