(Reuters) — A stunning 82,300 net new jobs were added to Canada's stagnant job market March, the biggest increase since September 2008.
The job gains, reported by Statistics Canada on Thursday, were spread fairly evenly across several sectors and were mainly in the private sector and in full-time positions.
Analysts surveyed by Reuters had forecast, on average, a gain of just 10,000 jobs in the month.
"Hibernation is over for Canadian employment. After a lengthy lull it's come roaring back with a rather incredible gain," said Doug Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.
The jobless rate in the month dipped to a six-month low of 7.2 per cent from 7.4 per cent, compared with expectations for a rise to 7.5 per cent.
Canadian jobs data tends to be volatile month-to-month and policy makers usually like to see the data over several months before declaring a trend.
But markets reacted immediately. The Canadian dollar rose to a session high against its United States counterpart, touching $0.9931 versus the U.S. currency, up from about $0.9977 just before the release of the data.
Overnight index swaps, which trade based on expectations for the central bank's key policy rate, showed that traders increased bets on a rate hike in the second half of 2012 after the data.
"This follows hard on the heels of some tougher talk from the Bank (of Canada) so I think it is just going to increase the chatter that the bank may be going earlier than the market had expected," said Porter.
Most analysts have predicted the Bank of Canada will hold its key interest rate steady at one per cent until next year.
Canadian growth slowed in the final quarter of 2011 and job creation has disappointed for the past several months, falling behind that of the United States for the first time since the 2008-09 recession.
Camilla Sutton, chief currency strategist at Scotia Capital, said the latest report suggests Canada's underperformance relative to the U.S. may have been short-lived.
"I think the biggest fear about Canada is that we had front-loaded the recovery or the expansion, and that things were beginning to dwindle. Now it really does throw an important hole in that argument," she said.
Most of the hiring in March took place in service industries which added 57,500 to payrolls, led by health care and social assistance and information, culture and recreation.
The goods-producing sector added 24,900 jobs, helped by manufacturing and construction.
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