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UPDATE 1-Canada labor productivity falls in Q4, 2008

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OTTAWA, March 17 (Reuters) - The labor productivity of Canadian businesses slid a sharper-than-expected 0.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, leading to the first annual decline in productivity since 1996, Statistics Canada said on Tuesday.

The gross domestic product of the business sector shrank 1.3 percent in the quarter while the number of hours worked dipped just 0.8 percent, Statscan said.

“Wholesale trade, manufacturing and finance, insurance and real estate accounted for much of the decline,” Statscan said in a report.

Analysts in a Reuters poll had forecast a 0.2 percent decline in the quarter. Productivity rose 0.1 percent in the third quarter, according to Statscan’s revised figures.

In all of 2008, Canadian productivity fell 1.1 percent, the first annual decline since 1996.

The performance compares unfavorably to that of the United States, where productivity fell 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter and grew 2.7 percent in the year. (Reporting by Louise Egan; Editing by Theodore d’Afflisio)

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