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Reports Point to Sluggish-Stable US Economy

  • Wayne Lee

FILE - Sparks fly as a construction worker uses a grinder to cut through steel reinforcing bars in New York, Feb. 1, 2016.

FILE - Sparks fly as a construction worker uses a grinder to cut through steel reinforcing bars in New York, Feb. 1, 2016.

A mixed-bag of economic reports released on Wednesday points to a sluggish but stable U.S. economy.

U.S. companies added jobs last month at their slowest pace in three years, according to payroll processor ADP. Business added 150,000 jobs in April, fewer than the 194,000 added in March. The reasons for the decline were the loss of 11,000 manufacturing jobs and weaker hiring at medium and larger companies.

The ADP report precedes Friday's monthly government unemployment update. Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor reported the jobless rate was little changed at 5.0 percent. Some economists expect firm growth in the range of 200,000 jobs.

The Labor Department reported American workers were less productive in the first quarter of this year. Productivity fell at an annual rate of one percent, compared to a 1.7 percent drop in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Productivity, the amount of output per hour of work, has been weak for the last five years. It is a key ingredient needed for raising living standards.

FILE - A sailboat makes its way past the container ship MSC Ivana as she is unloaded at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, California, March 3, 2016.

FILE - A sailboat makes its way past the container ship MSC Ivana as she is unloaded at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, California, March 3, 2016.

The bright spot was the U.S. trade deficit, which narrowed sharply in March, thanks to a drop in imports. The U.S. Department of Commerce reported the deficit shrank nearly 14 percent from February to $40.4 billion, its lowest level in a year. The report said the trade gap with China, one of America's largest trade partners, narrowed more than 34 percent.

Wells Fargo Global Economist Jay Bryson said the trade deficit news "came as little surprise" because recent preliminary data on trade in goods "signaled a sharp reduction in the overall deficit."

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