Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Job openings in the U.S. rose to a four-month high in October, showing companies kept expanding in the face of looming tax increases and budget cuts.
The number of positions waiting to be filled rose by 128,000 to 3.68 million from the prior month, the Labor Department said today in Washington. The trade deficit widened as exports slumped the most in four years, other figures showed.
More openings lay the groundwork for the accelerated job growth needed to bolster consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy. Employment gains so far have failed to satisfy Federal Reserve policy makers, who are meeting today and tomorrow to consider further easing to spur the economy.
“The labor market is healing gradually,” said Michael Gapen, a New York-based senior economist at Barclays Plc. “Policy makers would like to see more. We’re having more of the same -- moderate growth and moderate improvement in the labor market.”
Stocks rose after German investor confidence climbed and amid speculation progress was being made in talks in Washington to avoid more than $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax increases set to take effect next year. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed 0.7 percent to 1,427.84 at the close in New York.
German investor sentiment increased to a seven-month high in December on speculation Europe’s largest economy will gain momentum next year. The ZEW Center for European Economic Research in Mannheim said its index of investor and analyst expectations, which aims to predict economic developments six months in advance, rose to 6.9 from minus 15.7 in November.
Today’s U.S. Labor Department report on job openings and separations helps show the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures.
The job market withstood the impact of superstorm Sandy in November, Labor Department figures showed on Dec. 7. Payrolls rose by 146,000 in November following a revised 138,000 advance in October that was less than initially estimated. The median estimate of economists in a Bloomberg survey called for an 85,000 advance. Private payrolls, which exclude government agencies, grew by 147,000 after a revised gain of 189,000.
The jobless rate dropped to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent as people left the labor force, the Labor Department also reported last week.
Today’s report showed job openings in the Northeast were up 8,000 in October, while hiring dropped 101,000. Superstorm Sandy swept ashore in the region on Oct. 29.
For establishments in the storm-affected region that failed to respond to the survey and which met certain criteria, the Labor Department said that it assumed there were no job openings and that the business was closed. “There were very few establishments subject to the special procedures,” the agency said.
In the U.S., the number of people hired rose to 4.34 million in October, pushing up the hiring rate to 3.2 percent from 3.1 percent, today’s report showed.
Openings in construction, manufacturing, the leisure and hospitality industry and retailers contributed to the pickup in available employment. Openings in education and health services cooled.
Macy’s Inc., the second-biggest U.S. department-store chain, said it would add about 2,000 more workers than the 78,000 it hired last year for the holiday shopping season. Toys ‘R’ Us Inc., the world’s largest toy retailer, reported plans to employ 45,000 temporary staff, up 5,000 from the 2011 season.
Considering the 12.26 million Americans who were unemployed in October, today’s figures indicate there are about 3.3 people vying for every opening, up from about 1.8 when the recession began in December 2007.
Total firings, which exclude retirements and those who left their job voluntarily, decreased to 1.66 million from 1.73 million a month before.
In the 12 months ended in October, the economy created a net 1.9 million jobs, representing 51.7 million hires and about 49.8 million separations.
The Commerce Department today said the trade gap in October widened 4.9 percent to $42.2 billion from a revised $40.3 billion in September. Exports declined 3.6 percent, the most since January 2009.
The decrease in exports may have been exacerbated by a drop in the sale of soybeans caused by a drought in the Midwest. The decline was nonetheless broad-based, indicating cooling economies from Europe to Asia may be sapping demand for American goods, once a mainstay of the economic recovery.
Foreign purchases of engines, industrial machinery, and petroleum products were among the other categories that also saw decreases. Superstorm Sandy, which closed ports in New Jersey in late October and early November, may have contributed to the decline.
Imports declined 2.1 percent to $222.8 billion, the lowest level since April 2011, from $227.6 billion in the prior month, led by a $1.32 billion plunge in mobile phones, today’s report showed. The decrease followed a surge in September that coincided with the introduction of the latest Apple Inc. iPhone.
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