By Nick Zieminski
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hiring prospects for the coming quarter have improved in most large economies from three months ago, while holding steady in the United States, according to a quarterly survey of employers by ManpowerGroup Inc.
After two or more years of making do with minimal staff levels, employers are seeing enough demand for their products and services that they now need to start adding jobs, Manpower found. Fewer employers are sitting on the fence.
"As demand starts to tick up, you're going to see more incremental hiring," Manpower Chief Executive Jeff Joerres said. "Most of the excess capacity has been filled in, so you're getting more hiring on the margin. That's what we're hearing from our clients."
Job prospects improved in 20 of 39 countries and territories where Manpower conducts its survey compared with the previous quarter. Hiring intentions were flat in four other economies, including the United States, and worsened in 15.
When compared with the third quarter of last year, the job outlook improved in 24 economies and worsened in nine, including China, where employment growth appears to be reaching a plateau, according to Manpower.
In the United States, the net employment outlook was a seasonally adjusted plus-8, unchanged from the two preceding quarters. It marked seven consecutive quarters of positive hiring outlooks, the global employment services company said.
The U.S. net employment outlook -- which subtracts employers who plan to cut jobs from those who plan to add them -- is above levels of a year ago, when its reading was plus-6. The index dipped into negative territory in 2009, when recession meant job cutters outnumbered those adding jobs.
The percentage of U.S. employers who said they planned no change to their staffing levels fell below 70 percent for the first time in two years. Employers continue to squeeze more out of existing workers, but fewer of them have the luxury to continue delay adding jobs, Manpower said.
Its survey results follow a much weaker-than-expected U.S. May jobs report, which showed just 54,000 nonfarm payrolls added last month, while the unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent.
Other U.S. economic data have also pointed to a slowdown in recent weeks, including weaker-than-expected retail sales results and data on factory production. Despite the evidence of an economic soft patch, the U.S. unemployment rate will dip by the end of the third quarter, Joerres forecast.
"You're going to see more hiring," Joerres said. "I'm confident of that."
Manpower interviewed 18,000 U.S. hiring managers for its survey, a predictor of labor trends that dates back to 1962.
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Manpower's U.S. survey results are part of a much wider, global poll of 63,000 hiring managers, which found that job prospects remain strongest in Asia, where employers are much more likely to add jobs than in the Americas or in Europe.
China's hiring outlook improved sequentially, but is below year-ago levels. India's index dipped from the second quarter, but its reading is the highest of all the countries surveyed, with a net 46 percent of employers looking to add workers in the next three months.
India's wholesale and retail trade sector is showing the strongest outlook in the survey's six-year history there, reflecting a fast-growing consumer economy, the survey found.
"You're seeing in the Chinese and Indian market that hiring will be very good," Joerres said.
Japanese employers will continue hiring at a modest pace, according the survey, with the greatest demand in construction, after a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March.
Similarly to last quarter, the weakest forecasts globally are in Greece, Spain, Ireland and Italy. Greece's outlook improved from the last quarter, but prospects worsened in the other countries feeling the effects of a sovereign debt crisis. Portugal is not included in Manpower's survey.
Eastern European economies generally showed improving jobs prospects, helped by manufacturing and construction, while strong finance and business services are lifting Germany's outlook.
In the Americas, job seekers have the best chance of landing work in Argentina, Costa Rica and in Brazil, which especially needs construction, manufacturing and finance workers.
Manpower provides temporary workers and other staffing-related services in 80 countries and territories. Based in Milwaukee, it generates most of its sales and profits outside the United States. Its rivals include Switzerland's Adecco SA and Randstad Holding NV of the Netherlands.
(Editing by Andre Grenon)