In more good news for the job market, job openings reached a 14-year high in December, as the US had more than 5 million jobs available. The JOLTS report showed that the number of positions to be filled rose by 181,000 to 5.03 million – the most since January 2001. More than 5.1 million people were hired in December, making it the best month for hiring since before the recession. There are now 1.7 unemployed for every job opening.
On the downside, small business optimism slipped in January: the NFIB small business optimism index fell 2.5 points to 97.9 in January, giving back the gain in December that sent the index over 100.
The drop was largely due to a decline in optimism about business conditions: “January’s decline was mostly due to owners being less optimistic about sales growth and business conditions, not spending and hiring plans”. Still, seven of the index’s ten components declined.
Retail sales started out 2015 on a weak note, slipping .8% after falling .9% in December. Consumers are pocketing the money they saved on cheaper gas, and cutting back spending on autos, groceries, and at department stores. Sales at gas stations fell 9.3% – marking the biggest pullback since 2008.
Consumer sentiment slipped in February, with the University of Michigan’s gauge falling to 93.6 after hitting an 11-year high in January. The survey’s measures of current economic conditions and consumer expectations both declined.
The number of properties in foreclosure picked up 5% in January on an increase in bank repossessions, according to RealtyTrac. For the month, a total of 37,292 homes were repossessed, representing a 15-month high, while the foreclosure process was started on 48,838 homes and 119,888 homes were in some stage of foreclosure. RealtyTrac expects foreclosures to increase over the next several months as banks do some “spring cleaning”.