The U.S. economy added 271,000 private sector jobs in December, according to payrolls processor Automatic Data Processing, easily topping economists' forecasts of 179,000 jobs.

December's total was the highest number of jobs added in any month since February 2017 when the economy added 298,000 jobs. 

"Today's ADP data paints a picture of a growing economy and foreshadows what we may see in tomorrow's jobs report. Some good news on the fundamentals front is just what the market may need to kick start 2019 after visiting correction territory to close out the year," said E*Trade's head of investment strategy, Mike Loewengart.

The ADP numbers were released one day ahead of the Labor Department's official U.S. nonfarm payrolls report for December. Economists surveyed by FactSet expect the U.S. to have added 180,000 jobs last month with the unemployment rate holding steady at 3.7%.

The ADP survey said small businesses added 89,000 jobs in the month, while mid-sized employers added 129,000 jobs and large employers of 500 employees or more added 54,000 jobs. 

The service sector was by far the largest new employer, adding 224,000 jobs vs. 47,000 jobs added in the goods-producing sector. Construction added 37,000 jobs while manufacturing added another 12,000. 

The mining sector was the lone segment to report a decline. The sector lost 2,000 jobs in December.