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Bad weather dampens US productivity

Wednesday, May 07 14:17:47

U.S. nonfarm productivity fell at its fastest pace in a year in the first quarter as severe weather took its toll, leading to the largest gain in unit labour costs in more than a year.

Productivity declined at a 1.7 percent annual rate after advancing at a 2.3 percent pace in the fourth quarter, the Labor Department said today. It was the biggest drop since the first quarter of 2013.

The fall in productivity, which measures hourly output per worker, was in tandem with a weather-driven sharp weakness in the economy during the January-March period. An unusually cold and snowy winter reduced hours for some workers.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast productivity falling at a 1.0 percent rate.

First-quarter gross domestic product rose at a 0.1 percent annual rate, the government said in its advance estimate last week, abruptly slowing from the fourth quarter's 2.6 percent rate.

The trend in productivity, however, remains modestly up. Compared to the first quarter of 2013, productivity increased 1.4 percent.

Growth in output braked to a 0.3 percent rate in the first-quarter, also the weakest pace in a year. Output had increased at a 3.8 percent rate in the fourth quarter.

With output slowing sharply because of the adverse weather conditions the cost of labour jumped.

Unit labour costs, the price of labour per single unit of output, surged at a 4.2 percent rate after falling at a 0.4 percent rate in the fourth quarter. It was the biggest rise in unit labour costs since the fourth quarter of 2012.