WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — The U.S. economy has slowed down by almost every measure except for perhaps the most crucial one: jobs.

Sales at retailers have been soft, manufacturers are growing more slowly and business investment has fallen six straight months, a batch of recent reports show. No matter. Companies continue to hire at the fastest pace in 15 years, with little sign they are ready to apply the brakes.

The willingness of companies to hire and to shun layoffs might be a sign they expect the economy to speed up again in the spring. The first quarter may have been held back by headwinds that are short-lived, such as heavy snowfall, a soaring dollar and a plunge in oil prices that forced companies in the fast-growing U.S. energy sector to retrench.