NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. employers are expected to continue adding jobs in the first quarter of 2013, but uncertainty over the "fiscal cliff" has tempered the outlook, according to a quarterly hiring survey by ManpowerGroup.
The global staffing services company's outlook for U.S. jobs has been positive for 15 straight quarters, even as it weakens in most other economies.
A majority of U.S. employers polled did not expect any changes to their payrolls in the first quarter of 2013, said Jonas Prising, president of ManpowerGroup. Seventeen percent of U.S. employers anticipate adding workers, compared with 8 percent who believe they will have lay-offs.
"If you think about the 'fiscal cliff' and you're an employer, you're only going to hire what you need to hire," he said, referring to the $600 billion in spending cuts and tax hikes that will kick in starting in January unless Congress reaches a budget compromise.
The seasonally adjusted U.S. net employment outlook -- which measures the difference between employers who say they expect to add jobs and those planning to cut them -- was plus-12 for the first quarter of 2013, up from plus-11 in the fourth quarter and plus-9 a year ago.
One unexpected bright spot was retail. Employers in the wholesale and retail sector anticipate adding jobs in the first quarter, a period when companies usually cut back following the holiday season.
"It's a reflection that consumers are still feeling pretty good," Prising said.
Manpower's U.S. survey, which is 50 years old this year, is based on interviews with 18,000 employers. It is considered a leading indicator of labor market trends, but does not directly correlate with the monthly jobs numbers reported by the government.
The United States is one of 11 major economies that Manpower projects to have a stronger hiring outlook for the first quarter of 2013. However, exactly half of the 42 countries surveyed are expected to have a tougher marketplace for job-seekers.
Hiring in China is expected to remain stagnant as the large emerging economy continues to show signs of slowing down.
"Whenever China slows down it is a concern because it is one of the countries that can really propel growth," Prising said. "A China that slows down, even a little bit, has an immediate impact."
Job prospects continue to be dire across most of Europe, with Greece, Italy and Spain expected to be the weakest markets.
However, despite the ongoing economic uncertainty in Europe, the United Kingdom reported its strongest outlook in four years and job prospects in Germany improved slightly.
"All of Southern Europe is looking very tough, but Northern Europe is still holding its own," Prising said.
Manpower's global survey is based on interviews with 65,000 hiring managers. The Milwaukee-based company does business in about 80 countries and territories but generates most of its revenues in Europe.
Reporting By Adam Kerlin; Editing by Patricia Kranz and Dan Grebler