U.S. private employers added 153,000 jobs in December, fewer than in November, but the labor market remained solid, a report by a payrolls processor showed on Thursday.
Economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast the ADP National Employment Report would show a gain of 170,000 jobs, with estimates ranging from 140,000 to 200,000.
Private payroll gains in the month earlier were revised down to 215,000 from an originally reported 216,000 increase.
The report is jointly developed with Moody's Analytics.
"Job growth remains strong but is slowing," Mark Zandi, Moody’s Analytics' chief economist, said in a statement.
Private industries produced a monthly average of 174,000 jobs in 2016, slower than a 209,000 monthly pace in 2015, according to ADP.
"The gap between employment growth in the service economy and losses on the goods side persists. Smaller companies are struggling to maintain payrolls while large companies are expanding at a healthy pace,” Zandi said.
The ADP figures come ahead of the U.S. Labor Department's more comprehensive non-farm payrolls report on Friday, which includes both public and private-sector employment.
Economists polled by Reuters are looking for U.S. private payroll employment to have grown by 170,000 jobs in December, up from 156,000 the month before. Total non-farm employment is expected to have risen by 178,000.
The unemployment rate is forecast to tick up to 4.7 percent from 4.6 percent a month earlier.
The economy, being close to full employment, is on track to produce about 1.25 million jobs per year over the next four to five years, Zandi said on a conference call with reporters.
Changes in government policies that encourage more immigration, productivity and investments could raise the 1.25 million annual growth rate, he said.
(Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)