Canada's economy may have sputtered, but employers didn't get the memo.
Defying even the most optimistic of forecasts, the economy created 50,700 jobs in February, marking employment gains in six of the past seven months.
It's an anomaly in what has otherwise been a tepid economic picture in the past half-year, with slowdowns in manufacturing, housing, inflation and retail spending. Both the Bank of Canada and many private sector economist have recently shaved their economic growth forecasts for this year.
Jobs numbers can be volatile, but it's clear the labour market has been a key source of strength in the economy, one that will support a modest pick-up in activity in the first quarter of this year.
"Financial markets, economists, the Bank of Canada and almost everyone else seems convinced that the Canadian economy is entering a soft-patch of growth – everyone, that is, except for hiring managers," Emanuella Enenajor, economist at CIBC World Markets, said Friday after Statistics Canada also reported that the unemployment rate held at 7 per cent as more people looked for work, and thus were counted in the survey.
Most economists don't expect last month's scorching the pace of hiring will last, given an expected slowdown in real estate activity and government spending (as highlighted in this week's Alberta budget). But they don't expect hiring to dry up either.
Though many economic readings have been sluggish of late, this week showed a new verve in exports, housing starts (which may be temporary) and, importantly, job creation in the U.S., where 236,000 jobs were created in February, and unemployment dipped to 7.7 per cent.
Most of Canada's gains were on the services side of the economy, specifically in professional jobs, such as computer system design and management services, along with food services and public administration.
The goods side fared less well, with factories shedding more than 25,000 jobs last month, bringing employment to below last year's levels. And – in a sign of a recent challenges in the sector – natural resources lost 6,000 positions.
Full-time work comprised nearly 34,000 of last month's gains, with the rest in part-time positions. The private sector led the way, at 29,200 new jobs, with the remainder split between the public sector and self-employment.
Wage gains, though still muted, rose faster than the pace of inflation and hours worked also climbed, which suggests first-quarter gross domestic product will be stronger than the near-flat growth seen in the prior two quarters Other indicators, too, show solid hiring. More than a quarter of small business owners plan to add full-time staff in the coming quarter while just 6 per cent see cutbacks, according to the last survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Recruiting firm Randstad Canada is also seeing a pick-up in hiring, particularly on the services side of the economy. It saw higher demand in accounting, human resources, sales and technology last month, and says Saskatchewan is the "hot spot" in the country in terms of demand for workers.
By province, Saskatchewan's jobless rate of just 3.8 per cent is the lowest in Canada, and is at its lowest level since November, 2008.
Women continue their march into the work force. Employment levels among adult women have risen 1.6 per cent since September, compared with 0.9 per cent for men. And most of that growth is among women over age 55, who saw employment surge 5.5 per cent in that time.
Canadian women have scooped up 54 per cent of the new positions in the past year, gaining as many of the new full-time jobs as men and almost all of the new part-time positions, noted the Conference Board of Canada.