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* Big losses wipe out gain of 50,700 jobs in February
* Biggest single monthly loss of jobs in four years
* Unemployment rate rises to 7.2 percent from 7.0 percent
OTTAWA, April 5 (Reuters) - Canada's economy unexpectedly shed 54,500 jobs in March, more than wiping out the previous month's big gain and pushing up the jobless rate to 7.2 percent from 7.0 percent, Statistics Canada data indicated on Friday.
Market analysts had forecast an increase of 8,500 jobs following the 50,700 jobs which were added in February. March represented the biggest monthly loss since February 2009, when the economy shed 69,300 positions.
The data underline the Canadian economy's sluggish start to the year amid continuing uncertainty in key foreign markets.
Virtually all the job losses were full-time. The hard-hit manufacturing sector, particularly affected by the strong Canadian dollar and struggling customers, lost 24,200 jobs.
Employment also fell in the public administration and accommodation and food services sectors. Private sector employment dropped by 85,400 positions while the number of self-employed grew by 38,700.
The average hourly wage of permanent employees was 2.1 percent higher in March 2013 than in March 2012, down from the 2.2 percent year-on-year advance recorded in February 2013.