The recent spate of softening economic indicators continues today with the ADP employment report for March. Private-sector job growth came to 189,000, the lowest result in more than a year, and the manufacturing sector dropped for the first time in 14 months:

Private sector employment increased by 189,000 jobs from February to March according to the March ADP National Employment Report®. …

Payrolls for businesses with 49 or fewer employees increased by 108,000 jobs in March, up from 103,000 in February. Employment among companies with 50-499 employees increased by 62,000 jobs, up from 57,000 the previous month. Employment at large companies — those with 500 or more employees — decreased from February adding 19,000 jobs, down sharply from 53,000. Companies with 500-999 employees added 7,000 jobs, down from February’s 11,000. Companies with over 1,000 employees added 12,000 jobs, down from 43,000 the previous month.

Goods-producing employment rose by only 5,000 jobs in March, down from 22,000 jobs gained in February. The construction industry added 17,000 jobs, down from 28,000 last month. Meanwhile, manufacturing lost 1,000 jobs in March, after adding 2,000 in February.

Service-providing employment rose by 184,000 jobs in March, down from 192,000 in February. The ADP National Employment Report indicates that professional/business services contributed 40,000 jobs in March, up from February’s 34,000. Expansion in trade/transportation/utilities grew by 25,000, a decline from February’s 32,000. The 16,000 new jobs added in financial activities is a drop from last month’s 19,000.

Bloomberg says the disappointing result signals rough waters ahead, albeit couched with all sorts of long-range optimism. The ADP chart shows the downward trend, though, over the past 13 months:

adp-chart-march2014

Granted, ADP is not necessarily a reliable indicator of the official BLS report that will come out on Friday, but clearly the economy has not sustained even the moderate growth seen over the last twelve months. This comes at the same time that durable good orders and business investment have dropped — both of which are trends over multiple months. Real personal consumer expenditures (PCEs) dropped in February by 0.2%, the first decline in several months, as people put more of their disposable income into savings. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the recent economic boost relied heavily on PCEs and government spending (especially the latter in 2014Q3), and a reduction in consumer confidence coupled with curtailed business investment sends a rather foreboding signal on the US economy over the next few months.

The Wall Street Journal notes that the ADP report fell “far below expectations,” when the prediction had been 225,000:

Businesses hired at a mediocre pace last month, according to an employment survey released Wednesday.

Private payrolls in the U.S. increased by 189,000 jobs in March, said the national employment report compiled by payroll processorAutomatic Data Processing Inc. and forecasting firm Moody’s Analytics.

The number was far below expectations. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal projected ADP would say 225,000 new jobs were added in March. The February ADP increase was revised 214,000 from 212,000.

AFP says job growth “sputtered,” and works in the U-word:

Businesses increased nonfarm payrolls by 189,000 jobs in March, following much stronger job growth of 214,000 in February, ADP said.

The slowdown in job growth was unexpected after months of solid overall job growth and a falling unemployment rate, which hit 5.5 percent in February.

On average, analysts expected the pace of job growth would accelerate to 225,000 in March.

The last time the ADP report fell below 200,000 was January 2014.

The expectations seem a little unrealistic, especially given the months-long decrease in business investment. If companies aren’t buying capital goods, then they’re not looking to expand — and that means lower levels of job creation. Given the downslope on both PCEs and capital investment, the decline seems rather modest; a jobs gain of 189,000 from BLS on Friday would still keep pace with population growth, although it wouldn’t do much more than that.

Perhaps this will adjust expectations to something more realistic for Friday’s news.