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Services growth slows in February: Markit

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[February 25, 2014]  NEW YORK (Reuters)  Growth in the services sector as well as the pace of hiring slowed in February, an industry report showed on Monday, the latest data to suggest an unusually cold winter is dragging on economic activity.

Financial data firm Markit said its "flash" or preliminary services sector purchasing managers index slipped to 52.7 in February from 56.7 in January. A reading above 50 signals expansion in economic activity.

Service sector employers continued adding staff, but at the slowest pace in almost a year. At 52.0, down from 54.1 in January, the employment component notched its lowest reading since March 2013.

"The unusually severe winter weather undoubtedly looks to have taken its toll on the economy in the first quarter," said Chris Williamson, Markit's chief economist.

A range of U.S. economic data have recently suggested that the cold weather that's dumped snow across the country has hit economic activity, from a slump in home building and sales to factory output.

"However, companies clearly remained in expansion mode, with just over half of all firms expecting activity to rise over the coming year against just 3 percent expecting a decline," Williamson added.

This month's preliminary composite PMI, a weighted average of manufacturing and services indexes that was also reported by Markit on Monday, fell to 53.5 from 56.2 in January.

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The employment component of that index slipped to 52.4 in February from 53.9 in January, matching its level of November.

But backlogs of work grew, moving into expansion after having posted a contraction in the previous month.

(Reporting by Luciana Lopez; editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

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