(Reuters) American employers hired at the weakest pace in nine months in March, a sign tax hikes that kicked in early this year as part of Washington’s austerity drive could be stealing momentum from the economy.

(Payrolls expanded by just 88,000 last month outside the farming sector, the Labor Department said on Friday.

(That was well below market expectations for a 200,000 increase and fell short of even the most pessimistic forecast in a Reuters poll. The jobless rate ticked a tenth of a point lower to 7.6 percent largely due to people dropping out of the work force.

(“The U.S. economy just hit a major speed bump,” said Marcus Bullus, trading director at MB Capital in London.

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