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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's economy churned out a spectacular 95,000 jobs in May, the second-biggest gain in 37 years, according to an official report that raised hopes the economy is gaining momentum, but was also taken with a grain of salt.
The gain would be the equivalent of the far larger U.S. economy creating nearly 900,000 jobs in one month, well above the 175,000 workers hired there last month.
But Canada's monthly figures are always volatile, given the complications of conducting a survey of households to determine how many jobs have been created, and many analysts prefer to focus on a six-month average.
Canada's unemployment rate ticked down to 7.1 percent in May from 7.2 percent, Statistics Canada said in its report on Friday. The construction sector accounted for nearly half of the May hiring, pointing to the strength of Canada's heated housing sector, and analysts doubted that would last.
The data handily beat market expectations for 15,000 new jobs, but it changes little for the Bank of Canada, which is expected to keep interest rates on hold at their current low levels until late 2014.
"This erases some of the fears in the market that Canada was wildly underperforming the U.S. and the domestic economy was very weak," said Camilla Sutton, chief currency strategist at Scotia Bank in Toronto.
Canada long ago recovered all the jobs lost during the 2008-09 recession, but unemployment remains above pre-crisis levels and net job losses were recorded in the first four months of this year.
After the data, the Canadian dollar jumped to its strongest level against the U.S. dollar since mid-May, rising to C$1.0186, or 98.17 U.S. cents. It gave back some of those gains to trade at C$1.0210 at around 1230 a.m. EDT (1630 GMT) compared with C$1.0250 just before the jobs report.
The May data brings average monthly employment growth to 19,000 over the past six months.
Analysts and even a very pleased Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned against divining too much from figures from a single month.
Canada's jobs figures are based on interviews with households whereas the U.S. payrolls data is based in information from hiring companies.
Previous blockbuster Canadian jobs reports have been viewed with skepticism and later seen as anomalies.
Some 76,700 full-time positions were added in the month and 94,600 new jobs were in the private sector, Statscan said.
The report is good news for the Conservative government, which is reeling from an expenses scandal but has tried to brand itself as a strong steward of the national economy and public finances.
In a statement, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty touted Canada's job record as the strongest in the Group of Seven industrialized nations. But he warned that all was not well in the global economy.
"Canada is not immune to these challenges from beyond our border and we will be impacted," he said.
After a sluggish second half of 2012, rising exports helped pull first-quarter growth to an annualized rate of 2.5 percent, the fastest in six quarters.
The Bank of Canada expects 1.8 percent growth in the second quarter and 1.5 percent growth in 2013 as a whole.
Statscan also said the labor productivity of Canadian businesses increased 0.2 percent in the first quarter, in line with expectations.
It was the second straight quarter of tepid growth after three quarters of declines.
Canada has generally lagged the United States on productivity measures and that was the case in the first quarter as well as U.S. labor productivity grew 0.5 percent.
Canadian business output expanded 0.7 percent in the first quarter while hours worked rose at a slower 0.5 percent pace.
Labor unit costs in Canada declined 1.8 percent when measured in U.S. dollars compared with a 1.3 percent decline for American businesses.
Additional reporting by Alex Paterson, Solarina Ho and Randall Palmer; editing by James Dalgleish, Janet Guttsman, G Crosse and David Gregorio