US private job creation frost bitten in February: ADP

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The U.S. economy saw modest private sector job creation in February, a closely watched labor market barometer showed on Wednesday, as pervasive cold weather appeared to restrain hiring.

Employers added 139,000 private sector jobs, payroll processor ADP said in its monthly National Employment Report, a figure below Wall Street's expectations of 160,000, and only slightly stronger than January's pace of 127,000, which was revised down from 175,000.

The ADP report, which comes just ahead of the Labor Department's more consequential nonfarm payrolls, did little to alter the market's view about Federal Reserve policy. It was also the latest in a series of economic figures that analysts say could be the after effect of frigid temperatures enveloping swaths of the country.

Most analysts expect the Fed to continue on track with its plan to scale back its massive bond purchases, even as uncertainty persists about the strength of the recovery. Fed officials have stated recently that a run of weak data since the start of the year has been at least partly distorted by harsh weather.

"The latest data fails to really show signs of slowdown while shoring up optimism that the payback resulting from the cold winter will produce a positive hiring rebound come the spring," said Andrew Wilkinson, chief market analyst at Interactive Brokers.

The ADP series frequently diverges sharply from the government's official report. Nonetheless, given the prolonged cold snap, investors have mostly discounted the weak figures. In recent sessions, the S&P 500 Index surged to a record high despite the weak data, falling back only on risk-aversion stemming from Ukraine's political standoff with Russia.

"In recent months, the ADP estimate has often been above the initial [Labor Department] private sector estimate," said Brown Brothers Harriman in a research note. "Regardless of the report...there is little doubt that the Fed will announce another $10 billion of tapering at the FOMC [Fed Open Market Committee] meeting in a couple weeks."