May 8 (Bloomberg) -- Employers in the U.S. were seeking to fill more jobs in March than at any time in almost four years, showing growing confidence in the U.S. economy.
The number of open positions increased by 172,000 to 3.74 million, the most since July 2008, from a revised 3.57 million the prior month that was larger than previously estimated, the Labor Department said today in Washington. Another report showed small companies were more optimistic on their outlook.
More vacancies are a sign American companies were planning to expand at the end of the first quarter, undaunted by the jump in fuel costs or concerns that global economic growth will slow. The pickup is a “positive” development after a report last week showed payrolls in April grew at the slowest pace in six months, said economist Lou Crandall.
“Businesses were becoming a bit more willing to commit to new hires,” Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson ICAP LLC in Jersey City, New Jersey, said in an interview. “The progress is incremental at best and the levels are still very low.”
Stocks slumped, sending the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to its lowest level in about a month, as Greece’s struggle to form a new government intensified concern the country would exit the euro zone. The S&P 500 Index dropped 0.4 percent to 1,363.72 at the close in New York.
Elsewhere, a house-price index in the U.K. fell in April to a six-month low in April as demand weakened after a stamp-duty exemption for first-time buyers ended. In India, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, in a bid to lift investor confidence, delayed putting into effect until next year a proposal aimed at reducing tax avoidance.
Today’s U.S. jobs opening report helps shed light on the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures.
Payrolls climbed by 115,000 workers in April, the fewest in six months and less than the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, Labor Department figures showed on May 4. It followed a revised 154,000 gain in March that was larger than initially estimated.
“The softer payroll numbers that we saw in April raise questions as to whether that change in tone has carried over into the second quarter, and the jury is still out,” Crandall said. “It does suggest that some of the improvement that we saw in the first quarter was more broadly-based.”
The number of people hired decreased to 4.36 million in March from 4.44 million the previous month, today’s report showed. The hiring rate held at 3.3 percent.
Openings at Factories
Manufacturers led the gain in job openings for the month as all industries, except government agencies, looked to expand.
TaShea Mosley, 23, an administrative assistant at a company that supports ATM/credit card machines in Atlanta, is among those finding work. She was unemployed for 10 months after completing two years of college, so she enrolled in Year Up Atlanta, a training program to help young adults gain information-technology skills and was hired in February.
“When they saw that training on my resume, they said, ‘OK, we want this person because they have the skills necessary, they have the experience,’” Mosley said in an interview last week. “The economy is struggling to move in the right direction, but I can see progress being made. Progress is slow, but it’s coming.”
Confidence among small businesses climbed in April to a 14-month high as companies said they planned to boost hiring and spending, according to results of a survey by the National Federation of Independent Business issued today.
The group’s optimism index rose to 94.5, the highest since February 2011, from 92.5 the previous month. A net 17 percent of owners said job openings were hard to fill, up 2 points from March and close to the almost four-year high reached in January.
“Job creation plans, job openings and capital spending plans all increased,” William Dunkelberg, the group’s chief economist, said today in a statement. “Hopefully this performance will hold in the coming months.”
A separate survey from the Institute for Supply Management showed manufacturers projected employment will increase 1.4 percent for the rest of this year, while service companies predicted a 1.9 percent gain.
In its semiannual forecast, the Tempe, Arizona-based group also said factory purchasing managers project 4.5 percent sales growth in 2012, while service providers estimated revenue will climb 4.8 percent this year.
“The economy in the U.S. is doing reasonably well,” Donald MacPherson, a senior vice president at W.W. Grainger Inc., said during a May 3 investor conference. The Lake Forest, Illinois-based company makes motors, power tools and pumps. “We expect modest growth.”
About 2.15 million people quit their jobs in March, up from 2.07 million in February, today’s report from the Labor Department also showed. The increase may signal workers are gaining confidence they can find other work as the economy grows, which would create more openings for others.
“It’s an indication that more people feel they have opportunities to find a better job,” said Henry Mo, an economist at Credit Suisse in New York. “Job openings will continue to improve.”
Last week’s payrolls report showed the unemployment rate fell to a three-year low of 8.1 percent in April from 8.2 percent in March.
In the 12 months ended in March, the economy created a net 1.9 million jobs, representing 50.7 million hires and about 48.8 million separations, today’s report showed.
Considering the 12.7 million Americans who were unemployed in March, today’s figures indicate there are about 3.4 people vying for every opening, up from about 1.8 when the recession began in December 2007.
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