Job-Market Gains Underscored as Hiring Catches Up With Openings: Economy

Gains in hiring are catching up with job openings, pointing to greater willingness among U.S. companies to expand as the economy improves.

Employers took on 4.15 million workers in November, up 107,000 from the prior month, the Labor Department said today in Washington. The number of jobs filled in the three months to November was the highest since the period from March to May 2010.

The thawing in employment comes as other reports indicate firings have eased, highlighting an improvement in the labor market that is contributing to a rebound in consumer confidence and spending. Today’s figures also showed the number of jobs waiting to be filled dropped in November for a second month, a sign gains in payrolls will take time to develop.

“Any hiring increase is encouraging,” said Henry Mo, an economist at Credit Suisse in New York. “No matter how many openings you have, if you don’t hire then it doesn’t translate into the results the economy is looking for. I’m a little bit optimistic. Many labor market indicators are pointing in the right direction.”

Stocks climbed, sending the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to its highest level since July, amid bets that China may act to spur growth. The S&P 500 climbed 0.9 percent to 1,292.08 at the close in New York.

A report today showed China’s import growth dropped in December to a two-year low, underscoring a slowdown that may require government policies aimed at spurring the economy.

More Confidence

In Europe, French business confidence climbed from a two- year low in December and industrial production rose a month earlier, signs the threat of recession in the euro region’s second-biggest economy is easing.

Today’s report from the Labor Department showed job openings dropped by 63,000 to 3.16 million.

Fewer openings may mean the financial crisis in Europe and political gridlock in the U.S. are prompting companies to wait until there is more evidence the world’s largest economy is weathering the challenges.

Payrolls increased by 200,000 workers last month after a 100,000 gain in November, and the unemployment rate fell to an almost three-year low of 8.5 percent, Labor Department figures showed on Jan. 6.

Confidence among small businesses rose in December for a fourth month as companies foresaw improving sales, profits and economy, another report today found.

Small Companies

The National Federation of Independent Business’s sentiment index climbed to 93.8, the highest level since February, from 92 the previous month. The gauge averaged 88.2 in the recession that ended in June 2009.

Job openings dropped 2 percent in November from a revised 3.22 million in the prior month that was less than previously estimated, the report from the Labor Department showed.

The hiring rate climbed to 3.2 percent in November from 3.1 percent the prior month. It had been as low as 2.9 percent in January 2011.

The rate of job openings decreased to 2.3 percent from 2.4 percent in October. Professional and business services showed the biggest drop in jobs available.

Among companies expanding payrolls is Pier 1 Imports Inc. (PIR)

“Sales are robust, merchandise margins are strong, operating margins are growing,” Alexander Smith, chief executive officer of the Fort Worth, Texas-based firm said on a Dec. 15 conference call with analysts. “There’s going to be a little more hiring in the first part of the year without a doubt.”

Outlook for Unemployed

Compared with the 13.3 million Americans who were unemployed in November, today’s figures indicate there were about 4.2 people vying for every opening, up from about 1.8 when the 18-month recession began in December 2007.

Total job cuts, including retirements and those who left their job voluntarily, increased to 4 million in November from 3.9 million a month before. Firings climbed to 1.69 million from 1.6 million in October.

The data on firings run counter to figures on first-time claims for jobless benefits. The number of people collecting unemployment insurance payments averaged 396,300 a week in November, down from 405,300 the prior month, according to other Labor Department statistics.

In the 12 months ended in November, the economy created a net 1.4 million jobs, representing 48.6 million hires and 47.2 million separations, today’s report showed.

“We’re starting to rebound,” President Barack Obama said Jan. 6 after the monthly employment report. “We’re creating jobs on a consistent basis.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Carlos Torres in Washington at Ctorres2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Wellisz at cwellisz@bloomberg.net

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