U.S. companies added 201,000 jobs to their payrolls in March, according to data, less than expected but nonetheless a solid bump for employment growth, analysts said.
Payrolls firm ADP reported private companies added 3.4 percent fewer jobs this month compared with February's revised level. Most experts had predicted payrolls would grow by 210,000.
But coming on two previous months of over-200,000 figures, ADP said, the data "removes any remaining doubt that private nonfarm payroll employment accelerated heading into 2011."
Analysts at RDQ Economics called the figure positive news, even though it hinted at a slight slowdown in the pace of jobs growth.
"ADP employment has averaged a monthly gain of 200,000 in the first three months of 2011, about double the average monthly increase of 96,000 in the second half of 2010," they told clients.
The figure indicates still solid growth for the private sector, which might help offset lost public sector jobs in Friday's official unemployment report.
As state and local governments have tightened spending, teachers and other public sector workers have been laid off in large numbers in recent months.
For March, strong growth was seen in the service sector and in small and medium businesses, while manufacturing and large firms posted more modest increases.
In yet another sign that the housing market remains moribund, construction hiring fell.
February's payroll increase was revised down from 217,000 to 207,000.