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First Cut: February JOLTS has a hint of weakening in labor market

The February data on Job Openings and Labor Turnover had a hint of weakening in labor market conditions, but overall the numbers were still quite strong and little affected by the spread of the novel coronavirus. The solid data for February is likely to present a marked contrast when the March numbers are reported on Friday, May 15 at 10:00 ET. Anything positive in the February data is well in the rear view at this point.

Job openings declined 130,000 to 6.882 million in February, a reading that was not far below those which held through the prior year. At 4.3%, the job openings rate was still within the range of readings from more than a year ago.

The level of new hires was down 29,000 to 5.896 million, hardly different from recent months. The hires rate was unchanged at 3.9% in February for a fourth straight month.

The rate of separations fell 143,000 to 5.560 million in February, pointing to levels that remained historically low. The rate of separations was down a tenth to 3.6%, its lowest since 3.6% in December 2018.

Net separations — new hires less separations — was up 336,000, change that suggested overall strength for the labor market with hiring well outpacing separations.

Voluntary job quits were down 77,000 to 3.497 million in February, but still at levels consistent with a solid labor market and workers confident of finding new employment. The quit rate remained at 2.3% for a seventh straight month.

The Beveridge Curve — which compares the rate of job openings to the unemployment rate — also reflected historically tight conditions in the labor market.

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