Job Openings in U.S. Rise, Pointing to Payroll Gains

Job Openings in U.S. Increased to Two-Year High
The rate of job openings rose to 2.5 percent from 2.3 percent in September, according to today’s report. Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg

Job openings in the U.S. rose in October for the first time in three months, a sign gains in payrolls will accelerate in early 2011.

The number of positions waiting to be filled increased by 351,000 to 3.36 million, the most since August 2008, the Labor Department said today in Washington. Excluding a drop among government agencies, the 369,000 increase in openings at companies was the biggest in four years.

Combined with declining claims for jobless benefits and surveys showing hiring at manufactures and service providers is picking up, today’s report may help ease concern the labor market lost momentum in November. The government reported last week that the world’s largest economy created 39,000 jobs for the month, fewer than the most pessimistic forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.

The November payrolls report “looks like more of a bump in the road,” said Jonathan Basile, a senior economist at Credit Suisse in New York. Openings are “a positive force for what could eventually happen. It takes time to go from openings to hiring. It’s still going to be a slow process.”

Student Loans

Consumer borrowing unexpectedly rose in October for a second straight month, led by an increase in non-revolving credit, including student loans held by the federal government, a report today from the Federal Reserve also showed. Credit climbed by $3.38 billion after increasing a revised $1.23 billion in September.

Stocks ended the day little changed, depressed in the last hour by reports that a probe of insider trading had widened and President Barack Obama’s comment that he’ll push to overhaul the tax code in two years. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.1 percent to 1,223.75 at the 4 p.m. close in New York. News that Obama had agreed to a two-year extension of current tax rates sent the index up as much as 1 percent earlier in the day.

Another report today showed manufacturers are more optimistic about sales next year and plan to ramp up spending on new equipment, signaling factories will keep leading the economic recovery.

Outlook Improves

Purchasing managers at factories anticipate sales will grow 5.6 percent next year and business capital investment will jump 15 percent, the Tempe, Arizona-based Institute for Supply Management said in its semiannual forecast. Sales and spending will increase at a slower pace among service providers that account for about 90 percent of the economy.

Job openings increased 12 percent in October from a revised 3.01 million in the prior month, the Labor Department report showed. Professional and business services, which include accountants, computer systems experts and temporary-help agencies, had the biggest increases in available employment, followed by education and health care. Openings dropped at construction firms and government agencies.

Compared with the 14.8 million Americans who were unemployed in October, today’s figures indicate there were 4.4 people vying for every opening, up from about 1.8 when the recession began in December 2007. The number of jobless climbed to 15.1 million last month, pushing the unemployment rate up to a seven-month high of 9.8 percent, the Labor Department reported last week.

November Payrolls

Today’s report helps shed light on the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures. Private payrolls, which exclude government positions, rose by 50,000 workers in November, less than the most pessimistic forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, Labor Department figures showed on Dec. 3.

Employers took on 4.2 million workers in October, down 12,000 from the previous month, according to today’s report. Total firings, which exclude retirements and those who left their jobs voluntarily, dropped to 1.72 million from 1.81 million a month before.

In the 12 months ended in October, the economy created a net 700,000 jobs, representing about 50.8 million hires compared with about 50 million separations, today’s report showed.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has been among those saying the recovery has been too slow, keeping unemployment too high.

“At the rate we’re going, it could be four, five years before we are back to a more normal unemployment rate” of about 5 percent to 6 percent, Bernanke said in an interview broadcast Dec. 5 by CBS Corp.’s “60 Minutes” program.

Labor Needs

The economy hasn’t grown to the point where demand can’t be met with current staff at Illinois Tool Works Inc., chief executive officer David Speer said in an interview on Dec. 3.

Next year “there will be some modest level of improvement in employment in industrial manufacturing in the U.S.,” Speer said. “I don’t think anything significant for us, because I still see us with enough capacity in terms of labor right now to not have to make any significant additions.”

ITW, the maker of Hobart food mixers and Duo-Fast nail guns, may do more hiring in 2012 if “we progress as I suspect we will,” Speer said. The company last week forecast business revenue, which doesn’t include sales from acquired companies, will increase 5 percent to 7 percent in 2011 over this year.

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