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U.S. private sector maintains growth pace in December: Markit

Workers assemble Motorola phones at the Flextronics plant that will be building the new Motorola smart phone "MotoX" in Fort Worth, Texas Se
Workers assemble Motorola phones at the Flextronics plant that will be building the new Motorola smart phone "MotoX" in Fort Worth, Texas Se

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. private-sector activity continued to expand in December as service-sector growth picked up and hiring increased, an industry report showed on Wednesday.

Financial data firm Markit said its preliminary composite Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) - a weighted average of its manufacturing and services indexes - was 56.2 this month, unchanged from November. Readings above 50 indicate expansion.

December's service sector PMI rose to 56.0 from 55.9 as new orders increased, prompting businesses to take on more staff. The employment index, after hitting an eight-month low of 52.4 last month, jumped to 55.7 in December, the fastest rate of growth since Markit's data collection began in late 2009.

Across the private sector, the employment gauge rose to 55.4 from 52.4.

"The particularly encouraging news is that employment growth has picked up in both services and manufacturing, suggesting non-farm payroll growth should easily exceed 200,000 in December," said Markit chief economist Chris Williamson.

"Firms have become increasingly optimistic about the outlook, especially because inflows of new work are rising at one of the fastest rates seen since 2009," he added.

U.S. employers added 203,000 new jobs in November, according to the Labor Department's non-farm payrolls report. A continuation of that pace could prompt the Federal Reserve to start unwinding its stimulus spending sooner rather than later.

Markit's "flash" reading is based on replies from about 85 percent of the U.S. companies in the services sector that were surveyed. A final reading will be released on the first business day of the following month.

(Reporting By Steven C. Johnson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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