Gain in job openings shows U.S. labor market improving

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 0.9 percent to 1,431.13 at 1:12 p.m. 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.

Monthly Figures

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.

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