NEW YORK (AP) -- Labor markets will remain tight throughout the winter, with demand for workers climbing to a seasonal high as more than a quarter of American companies anticipate hiring new employees in the first quarter of 2001, a new survey reports.

In a survey of 16,000 companies, being released Monday by the temporary staffing agency Manpower Inc., 27 percent said they planned to add staff in the first three months of the year -- a record high among first quarters following record-setting demand for the previous two quarters. For the same period a year ago, 24 percent said they would increase their staffs.

Of the companies surveyed about the upcoming quarter, 10 percent said they plan cutbacks, 58 percent anticipate no change, and 5 percent are uncertain.

The demand is slightly lower than three months ago, when 32 percent of those surveyed said they would add employees.

Jeffrey Joerres, president and CEO of Manpower, said the hiring will not necessarily take place within sectors that traditionally have staffing demands at the beginning of a new year.

``Wholesale and retail trades employers, who for so many years shed short-term holiday help, now find it necessary to be recruiting workers all year around,'' Joerres said. ``Construction companies find themselves in a similar bind. If they wait until the usual building season is at hand, they may be unable to find the people they need.''

Among industries, the wholesale and retail construction and providers of services showed particularly strong demand for workers. Demand by construction companies hasn't been this high for the first quarter of a year since 1978.

Wholesalers and retailers are reporting demand that is more than double that a year ago.

However, makers of durable goods, such as cars and appliances, were less optimistic now than they were the previous year.

The survey was conducted prior to Election Day, but Joerres said presidential elections in years past have not affected staffing plans by respondents.