By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, Jan 8 (Reuters) - U.S. private employers hired staff at the fastest pace in 13 months in December, data from a payrolls processor showed Wednesday, burnishing expectations that similar figures due later in the week from the government will confirm the U.S. economy was gathering steam at the end of last year.
Companies added 238,000 jobs last month after an upwardly revised 229,000 in November, the ADP National Employment Report showed, topping expectations in a Reuters poll for a gain of 200,000. It was the largest monthly gain since November 2012 and brought a three-month average of corporate hiring to nearly 225,000 a month, the fastest such pace in 21 months.
"We're now going to start to see an economic recovery more typical of the economic recoveries we've seen historically," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, which jointly develops the report with payrolls processor ADP. "It feels like the jobs market has kicked into a higher gear."
The data was also likely a welcome affirmation of positive economic momentum for policy makers at the U.S. Federal Reserve, who last month were confident enough in the recent improvement in activity to set plans to scale back their massive stimulus program.
U.S. stocks were modestly lower following the report, while the euro fell to a one-month low against the dollar. The dollar also extended its gains against the yen.
U.S. Treasury bond prices extended their decline, with the benchmark 10-year Treasury notes last trading 12/32 lower in price with a yield of 2.982 percent, up 4.5 basis points from late on Monday.
The ADP report comes two days ahead of the government's nonfarm payrolls report, a measure of the labor market that is more comprehensive and includes both public and private sector employment. Analysts are looking for 196,000 jobs to have been added in December, and a rise in private payrolls of 195,000. Both numbers would represent slight declines from November.
Moody's Zandi said that based on the ADP report, he estimated that payrolls would show 230,000 jobs created in December.
In the ADP report, November's job growth figure was revised up to 229,000 from the initially reported 215,000.
Separately, applications for U.S. home mortgages rose 2.6 percent in the latest week, rebounding from a 13-year low set at the end of last year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Recent data has pointed to an acceleration in economic conditions. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department said the November U.S. trade deficit was the smallest in four years as exports hit a record high and weak oil prices restrained import growth.
Also on Wednesday, retail industry tracker ShopperTrak said that sales rose 2.7 percent in the November-December holiday shopping season, boosted by promotions and discounts. J.C. Penney Co Inc, which has struggled to grow its sales after massive declines, described its holiday performance as pleasing, and affirmed its fourth-quarter outlook.
Investors have been especially sensitive to signs of economic improvement ever since the U.S. Federal Reserve in December announced that it would begin to slow its massive stimulus program, which was a major contributor to the S&P 500's rally of nearly 30 percent in 2013.
Since the Fed said it would begin to slow the program when certain economic indicators met its targets, some traders had previously taken strong data as a negative because it suggested a faster end to the program.