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Latest US jobs figures disappoint

Friday, February 07 14:12:30

U.S. employers hired far fewer workers than expected in January and job gains for the prior month were barely revised up, suggesting a loss of momentum in the economy, even as the unemployment rate hit a new five-year low of 6.6 percent.

Nonfarm payrolls rose only 113,000, the Labor Department said today. But with strong job gains in construction, cold weather probably was not a major factor in January.

The second straight month of weak hiring - marked by declines in retail, utilities, government, and education and health employment - could be a problem for the Federal Reserve, which is tapering its monthly bond-purchasing stimulus program.

December payrolls were raised only 1,000 to 75,000.

The data also comes on the heels of a report on Monday showing a surprise drop in factory activity to an eight-month low in January and could rattle investors, already nervous about slowing global growth.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls increasing 185,000 last month and the unemployment rate to hold steady at 6.7 percent.

But there was a silver lining in the report. The unemployment rate dropped a tenth of a percentage point to 6.6 percent last month, the lowest since October 2008.