U.S. manufacturing executives have a brighter outlook on the economic recovery than do their colleagues in the European Union or the service sector, according to a study released on Tuesday.

But that new confidence does not signal a pickup in hiring, with less than half of U.S. manufacturing officials expecting to boost their companies' employment, the KPMG Business Outlook Survey found.

Some 71 percent of U.S. manufacturing executives said they expected business activity to pick up over the next 12 months, versus 57 percent of their EU counterparts and 63 percent of executives in the U.S. service sector.

The majority of U.S. manufacturing executives expect revenue and profit to rise over the next 12 months, though just 34 percent expect to boost employment. They are not looking to cut jobs, though, with 55 percent of U.S. manufacturing executives looking for employment at their companies to stay flat over the next year.

Executives are telling us they are optimistic about the future, particularly in the United States, where the recovery appears to be taking hold more quickly than in Europe, said Mark Goodburn, vice chairman at KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting firms.

Worldwide, executives in the manufacturing sector were slightly more bullish than their service sector counterparts, with 61 percent of manufacturers expecting a rise in business activity, versus 53 percent of service sector executives.

Manufacturers' outlook was brighter in March than it had been when the survey was last conducted in October, while fewer service sector executives saw growth ahead, according to the poll of 11,000 executives at 6,200 companies in 17 countries.

Top U.S. manufacturers including United Technologies Corp , Caterpillar Inc and 3M Co have forecast a return to profit growth this year, after recording declines in 2009 in the face of the worst recession the world has seen in decades.

By way of comparison, service sector players ranging from International Business Machines to Salesforce.com Inc managed to increase profits through the recession.

(Reporting by Scott Malone, editing by Dave Zimmerman)