A forward-looking measure of hiring intentions improved in the United States and most other countries, suggesting job growth may resume in the first quarter, according to a quarterly survey by Manpower Inc .

The survey shows the pace of jobs recovery appears to be faster in the United States than in Asia or Europe, and the U.S. consumer retains a central role in the global economy. But a fast global jobs recovery is unlikely and the pace of hiring will depend on U.S. consumer sentiment, Manpower said.

The global employment services company said its seasonally adjusted U.S. net employment outlook was plus-6 for the first quarter, up from minus-2 in the fourth quarter. By comparison, this measure was at plus-9 in the first quarter of 2009.

The index, based on interviews with 28,000 U.S. hiring managers, measures the difference between those who say they will add to their workforce and those who plan cuts.

A full 73 percent, the most ever, reported no change in their hiring outlook, reflecting continued caution over the direction of the U.S. economy and prospects for renewed consumer spending, according to the survey released Tuesday.

The companies surveyed are telling us that things are getting slightly better, said Manpower Chief Executive Jeff Joerres.

They haven't seen the demand for their products and services, so they're saying, I need to hold where I am right now.' A number that high says there is a resolve to hold on to staff even if demand is tepid.

Joerres said the survey painted the same picture of gradually improving jobs demand as the monthly government report. On Friday, the Labor Department said the economy shed only 11,000 jobs last month, far fewer than expected, while the unemployment rate slipped to 10 percent.

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An increase in temporary payrolls in the November government jobs report, and a rise in overtime hours, together indicate that some employers are coming against the limit of what they can achieve with current staff levels. They are supplementing staff with longer hours and by hiring contract labor. The manufacturing sector showed particular improvement from the prior quarter.

Manpower uses the survey results to help set its own strategy for the next three months, for example in helping determine whether to open or close branches.

Temporary jobs typically are the first to deteriorate in a downturn, and the first to improve during recovery, a classic pattern that so far appears to be repeating. That is not to suggest that a big jump in payrolls is to be expected in coming months, Joerres said.

Job growth is not going to be some type of euphoria when the doors burst open and hiring is made in big ways, he said. Hiring will be measured and correlated with demand.

Manpower's U.S. survey dates back to 1962 and is considered a leading indicator of labor trends. Its surveys have a shorter history in other countries, many of which were added just in the past decade.

The Milwaukee-based company does business in 80 countries and generates the bulk of its revenue and profit outside the United States.


Manpower's global survey of hiring intentions, based on 71,000 interviews, found better jobs prospects in 25 of 35 countries and territories. Employer optimism improved throughout Asia from the previous quarter, partly reflecting domestic consumer demand rather than export growth.

The outlook remains negative in Japan, but there, too, it ticked up from the fourth quarter. The country is still struggling to recover from a protracted period of tepid economic growth, Manpower's CEO said.

In Europe, France, Austria and Germany reported better hiring sentiment, as did Scandinavian countries. Prospects were little changed in the United Kingdom and have deteriorated in Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic. There, employers are reporting their weakest hiring plans in the local surveys' histories.

Overall, Manpower said, the U.S. consumer remains the key factor driving jobs around the world.

The U.S. consumer needs to kick in for everyone to be healthy, Joerres said, adding that U.S. consumer confidence still faced obstacles like weak housing prices and tight credit. Until the consumer feels wealthy, the recovery is not going to happen. It's going to take a little while yet.

(Reporting by Nick Zieminski, editing by Matthew Lewis)