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Canadian employment gains hit a three-year low in 2018, official data showed on Friday, reinforcing market expectations that the Bank of Canada will keep interest rates unchanged next week.

Canada added 9,300 jobs in December on an increase in part-time hiring, slightly more than markets had expected, while the unemployment rate remained at an all-time low 5.6 per cent, Statistics Canada said.

That said, employment as a whole in 2018 rose by 163,300 position, or just 0.9 per cent, the lowest yearly increase since the 0.9 per cent seen in 2015.

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The Bank of Canada has raised rates five times since July 2017 as the economy strengthens but analysts say there is no chance it will tighten again on Jan. 9.

“I don’t think this nondescript employment report will change the outlook. We’re expecting them to keep rates unchanged next week,” said Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets. Porter, speaking by phone, said the central bank was focused more on financial markets and weak oil prices.

Analysts in a Reuters poll had forecast a gain of 5,500 positions in December and for the jobless rate to increase to 5.7 per cent from 5.6 per cent in November, a month when a record 94,100 jobs were created.

The economy shed 18,900 full-time jobs in December while part-time positions grew by 28,300.

The average year-over-year wage growth of permanent employees – a figure closely watched by the central bank – remained at 1.5 per cent in December, the lowest since the 1.2 per cent seen in July 2017.

“(That) suggests that there is a bit more capacity in the economy than the bank had expected in October and it fits with the idea that there is going to be a Bank of Canada pause,” said Andrew Kelvin, senior rates strategist at TD Securities.

The six-month average for employment gains dipped to 30,100 from 33,800 in November.

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Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said on Dec. 17 that the pace of tightening, which he stresses will be heavily dependent on data, could be interrupted or sped up depending on the economic circumstances.

The Canadian dollar pared its gains on the report and touched $1.35688 to the U.S. dollar, or 74.32 U.S. cents.

Statscan said Canadian producer prices fell by 0.8 per cent in November from October, the largest drop in almost two years, thanks largely to cheaper energy and petroleum products.

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