Labor Market Hits A Brick Wall: Job Openings Post Biggest Two-Month Drop In History

While one wouldn't know it by looking at the BLS' jobs report, which in January showed that a whopping 225K jobs were added, the JOLTS report issued moments ago showed a vastly different picture, one which if one didn't know better would suggest that the US labor market hit a brick wall. Why? Because according to JOLTS, traditionally Janet Yellen's favorite labor market report, job openings in December plunged by a whopping 354K, from an downward revised 6.787MM to 6.423MM, the lowest monthly total since December 2017...

... which when combined with last month's huge 574K drop in job openings, brings the two-month drop to a record 938K in the last two months of 2019, and suggests that even as the BLS indicates the jobs market is humming along, employers are retrenching and pulled almost 1 million jobs-wanted postings in November and December.

Is it possible that the BLS was simply caught fabricating data? Certainly: as a reminder, it was back in September 2013 that we caught the BLS lying about labor market data precisely when looking at the JOLTS report, although it is just as likely that after overrepresenting the strength of the labor market for the past two years, the BLS decided to finally catch down to reality at the end of 2019.

Commenting on the data, the BLS said that the number of job openings decreased for total private (-332,000) and the largest decreases for job openings were in transportation, warehousing, and utilities (-88,000), real estate and rental and leasing (-34,000), and educational services (-34,000). The number of job openings fell in the South region

That said, there was a silver lining to today's report: even at 6.4MM job openings this was still well above the total number of unemployed workers which in January was 5.9 million; and while December was the 22nd consecutive month in which job openings surpassed unemployed workers, the difference between the two series has shrunk to the lowest since March 2018.

Meanwhile, as job openings plunged, the number of Americans quitting their jobs has been largely unchanged for the past year, having plateaued at just around 3.5 million (the number dropped by 80K in December).

That said, there was some good news: the number of hires in December rose by 80K, and remains slightly above where the cumulative change in payrolls over the past 12 months suggests it should be.

Still, despite this offset, the record two-month plunge in job openings is a very loud, and very clear signal that something is breaking in the labor market, and if this trend continues, then the next logical escalation is a surge in layoffs as US employers retrench and force their existing workers to boost their productivity further.

Needless to say, a nearly 1 million drop in job openings in two months is not something one would see if the economy was firing on all cylinders as the stock market represents every single day.

Finally, those wondering what kind of news drives the market these days, well following the ugliest JOLTS report in years, this is what happened:

  • 10:01a Job openings in December fall to lowest level in 2 years
  • 10:01a Stocks add to gains after job openings and labor turnover survey

And now you know.