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US revised Q1 productivity down 0.6% vs. 0.6% decline expected

U.S. nonfarm productivity fell less sharply than previously thought in the first quarter, but labor-related costs still surged as companies employed more workers to boost output.

The Labor Department said on Tuesday productivity, which measures hourly output per worker, contracted at an annualized rate of 0.6 percent, instead of the 1.0 percent pace reported last month. The revision, which reflected modestly higher output than previously estimated, was in line with economists' expectations.

Productivity fell at a 1.7 percent rate in the fourth quarter. The government last month raised its first-quarter economic growth estimate to a 0.8 percent rate from the 0.5 percent pace reported in April.

Productivity, which has only increased in two of the last six quarters, rose at a 0.7 percent rate compared to the first quarter of 2015.

The weakness in productivity partially explains the divergence between the economy's anemic performance at the start of the year and a fairly strong labor market, marked by average monthly job gains of 196,000 in the first quarter.

Productivity increased at a annual rate of less than 1.0 percent in each of the last five years. This suggests the economy's potential rate of growth has declined.

The increase in hours worked in the first quarter was unrevised at a 1.5 percent rate.

Unit labor costs, the price of labor per single unit of output, increased at a revised 4.5 percent pace. They were previously reported to have advanced at a 4.1 percent rate. Fourth-quarter unit labor costs were revised to show a 5.4 percent rate of increase, the fastest rate since the fourth quarter of 2014, instead of 2.7 percent.

Despite the upward revision, the trend in labor cost increases remains moderate. Unit labor costs increased at a 3.0 percent rate compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Hourly compensation per hour increased at an upwardly revised 3.9 percent rate in the first quarter instead of the previously reported 3.0 percent pace.