Job Openings in U.S. Rise by the Most in Almost a Year: Economy

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U.S. Job Openings Rise First Time in 3 Months
Capsugel Belgium NV Licaps liquid-filled capsules at the company's manufactuting plant in Greenwood, South Carolina, on Jan. 12, 2012. Photographer: Ariana Lindquist/Bloomberg

Job openings in the U.S. increased in December by the most in almost a year, showing employers are gaining confidence the economy will keep growing in 2012.

The number of positions waiting to be filled climbed by 258,000, the biggest gain since February 2011, to 3.38 million, the Labor Department said today in Washington. Excluding government agencies, openings at private employers climbed to the highest level since August 2008.

More openings mean companies may be looking beyond the European financial crisis and are making plans to expand this year as sales grow. Payrolls increased by 243,000 workers last month after a 203,000 gain in December, and the jobless rate fell to 8.3 percent, a three-year low, Labor Department figures showed on Feb. 3.

“The labor market is gaining traction,” said Henry Mo, an economist at Credit Suisse in New York. “The overall economy is doing well considering we have had a lot of drawbacks from overseas, including the European debt crisis.”

Openings in December rose by 8.3 percent from the prior month’s 3.12 million. The number of openings was just short of September’s reading, which was the highest since August 2008.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke today repeated that the job market is still far from healthy, and called on lawmakers to reduce the long-term budget deficit.

Bernanke’s View

“We still have a long way to go before the labor market can be said to be operating normally,” Bernanke said in testimony prepared for the Senate Budget Committee that is identical to remarks he gave on Feb. 2 to the House Budget panel. “Particularly troubling is the unusually high level of long-term unemployment.”

About 5.5 million Americans haven’t worked for 27 weeks or more and are still looking -- making up 42.9 percent of the total unemployed pool, according to Labor Department data.

Stocks climbed today as Greece’s government made progress on measure to secure international aid. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.1 percent to 1,346.06 at 11:25 a.m. in New York. Treasury securities fell, sending the yield on the benchmark 10-year note up to 1.97 percent from 1.91 percent late yesterday.

Elsewhere today, France’s trade deficit widened to a record in 2011, underlining a drop in competitiveness that President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to counter with a cut in corporate payroll taxes. The shortfall swelled to 69.6 billion euros ($91 billion) last year from 51.5 billion euros in 2010, the trade ministry in Paris said.

Australia unexpectedly kept interest rates unchanged as two cuts late last year helped the economy weather Europe’s debt crisis.

Openings Rate

The rate of U.S. job openings climbed to 2.5 percent from 2.3 percent in November. Professional and business services showed the biggest jump in jobs available, followed by retailers and manufacturers. Government agencies sought

Among companies expanding payrolls is Tibco Software Inc. The Palo Alto, California-based company plans to hire 500 people in the U.S. this year as the economy improves and Europe works out its debt crisis, Vivek Ranadive, chief executive officer of the Palo company said in an interview.

“We are hiring quite rapidly now, all in sales and service,” Ranadive said last month at the World Economic Forum’s annual conference in Davos, Switzerland. “It’s a good time to hire.” The company makes software that enables companies to link internal operations, business partners and customers.

Unemployed per Opening

Compared with the 13.1 million Americans who were unemployed in December, today’s figures indicate there were about 3.9 people vying for every opening, down from 4.3 in November and the fewest since December 2008.

Nonetheless, the readings are still up from about 1.8 when the 18-month recession began in December 2007.

Employers took on 4.05 million workers in December, down from 4.13 million the previous month, today’s report showed.

Total job cuts, including retirements and those who left their job voluntarily, decreased to 3.91 million in December from 3.99 million a month before. Firings dropped to 1.64 million from 1.72 million in November.

The firings data corroborate figures on first-time claims for jobless benefits. The number of people collecting unemployment insurance payments averaged 376,200 a week in December, down from 396,300 the prior month, according to other Labor Department statistics.

In the 12 months ended in December, the economy created a net 1.4 million jobs, representing 48.4 million hires and 47 million separations, today’s report showed.

“The recovery is speeding up,” President Barack Obama said at a fire station in Arlington, Virginia, last week after the monthly employment report. “And we’ve got to do everything in our power to keep it going.”

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