U.S. productivity fastest in 2 years, labour costs subdued

Businesses still slow to hire, keeping tight with wages
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 12/05/2012

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Non-farm productivity increased at a much faster clip than initially thought in the third quarter as businesses held the line on hiring even as output surged, with unit labour costs falling at their fastest pace in almost a year.

Productivity increased at a 2.9 per cent annual rate, the fastest since the third quarter of 2010, the Labor Department said on Wednesday.

It had previously estimated that productivity, which measures hourly output per worker, rose at a 1.9 per cent pace in the third quarter. In the second quarter, productivity had increased at a 1.9 per cent rate.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast productivity being revised up to a 2.7 per cent pace in the third quarter.

The upward revision to productivity growth reflected an upward adjustment to the estimate for third-quarter economic growth to a 2.7 per cent pace from two per cent.

But most of the pickup in GDP growth was because of a buildup in inventories as consumer spending slackened.

Businesses emerged from the 2007-09 recession lean and are showing little urgency to ramp up hiring, relying on their existing workers to meet production and keeping a tight hand on costs such as wages.

Unit labour costs — a gauge of the labour-related cost for any given unit of output — fell at 1.9 per cent rate in the third quarter, far more than the 0.1 per cent drop previously reported.

They fell for a second straight quarter and were up only 0.1 per cent from one year ago, underscoring the lack of wage-related inflation pressures in the economy and helping to keep the door open to further monetary easing by the Federal Reserve to stimulate the economy.

Worker hours rose at a 1.3 per cent rate in the third quarter, while non-farm output surged at a 4.2 per cent pace — the fastest since the fourth quarter of 2011.

Output had previously been reported to have increased at a 3.2 per cent pace.

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