Vacancies fell beneath 10 million

A call for employment is posted at a Dollar General supermarket in Austin, Texas on March 10, 2023.

Brandon Bell | Getty Images

Job listings fell below 10 million in February for the first time in almost two years, a sign that the Federal Reserve’s efforts to rein in the job market could be having some impact.

Available jobs totaled 9.93 million, down 632,000 from January’s downwardly revised figure, the Labor Department reported Tuesday in its monthly Job Vacancy and Labor Turnover Survey. According to FactSet, Wall Street had been looking for 10.4 million.

It was the first time since May 2021 that the number of vacancies fell below 10 million.

The Fed has targeted the red-hot job market to bring down inflation, which was at a 41-year high in the summer of 2022. The central bank has raised interest rates nine times since March 2022, but those moves appear to have had little impact on employment.

Prior to February’s data, vacancies outnumbered available labor by almost 2 to 1. The latest figures put that ratio at less than 1.7 to 1.

Treasury yields fell after the release as the data could help dissuade the Fed from further rate hikes. Stocks moved down.

“The labor market is starting to loosen as job vacancies have fallen in most sectors. As the economy slows, companies are likely to cut jobs and workers are less likely to quit in search of better hours and higher wages,” said Jeffrey Roach , chief economist at LPL Financial. “The Fed could consider pausing rate hikes at the next meeting, but only if the forthcoming jobs report shows signs of material weakness and March [consumer price index] Report shows lower inflation.”

Although the numbers are a month behind, the Fed is watching the JOLTS data closely for signs of a slowdown in activity.

Along with the decline in job vacancies, hiring and departures also fell slightly. Layoffs, a sign of workers’ confidence in the ability to change jobs, rose by 146,000 to just over 4 million.

Professional and business services saw a 278,000 drop in job vacancies this month, while trade, transportation and utilities fell by 210,000. Accommodation and catering services, a key sector for measuring consumer demand, fell by 125,000.

On a positive note, 129,000 new jobs were available in construction, although this was the only category to see a noticeable uptick.

The JOLTS release comes three days ahead of the new nonfarm payrolls for March. Friday’s Labor Department census is expected to show an increase of 238,000 with the jobless rate held steady at 3.6%.

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