Private-sector surveys point to U.S. jobs recovery

NEW YORK, March 4 Thu Mar 4, 2010 10:20am EST

NEW YORK, March 4 (Reuters) - Three forward-looking surveys of U.S. hiring intentions point to a tentative jobs recovery in coming months.

The surveys by U.S. staffing and payroll companies suggest businesses are cautiously rebuilding staff, especially in professional areas such as finance and accounting, information technology, and legal. Another poll finds increased optimism about small-business employers.

A survey by Robert Half International Inc (RHI.N) of 4,000 executives found 10 percent expect to increase hiring in the second quarter, compared with 6 percent who anticipate cutting jobs. However, the vast majority -- 82 percent -- plan no change in hiring.

"Many firms, especially those that found they cut staff too aggressively during the worst of the recession, may need to add personnel at the first sign of a pickup in business," Max Messmer, chief executive of Robert Half, said in a statement.

A net 9 percent of executives in the finance, insurance and real estate sector plan to add professional-level staff, while a net 26 percent will add in the legal field, according to Robert Half. More than one third of executives said they were having trouble finding skilled professionals.

Meanwhile, the number of positions posted on the U.S. edition of eFinancialCareers is up 15 percent from the same time a year ago. The unit of Dice Holdings Inc (DHX.N) said on Thursday the number of accounting jobs posted is up by half from a year ago, while compliance and legal job postings are up 45 percent.

"We've heard isolated reports of firms losing out on their top choices, because financial professionals are being courted by more than one prospective employer," said Constance Melrose, managing director of eFinancialCareers North America.

To be sure, improving sentiment may not immediately translate into concrete job gains on a national scale. And while job prospects have improved in some areas, they are worse in others. For example, job postings in hedge funds, private banking and commodities are lower, eFinancialCareers said.

Friday's February jobs report is expected to show a decline of 50,000 nonfarm payrolls, possibly reflecting heavy snowfall in the U.S. Northeast. Forecasts range from a decline of 150,000 jobs to an increase of 100,000. [ECI/US]

SMALL BUSINESS HIRING

A separate survey of small-business sentiment found optimism jumped 16 percentage points in February from the prior month. According to SurePayroll Inc, which processes paychecks for 25,000 small businesses, 61 percent of small-business owners are optimistic about the future of the small-business economy.

Small-business hiring increased 1.9 percent nationwide last month, led by gains in western states including California and Nevada, though without higher wages. SurePayroll said its pay index was flat last month, after 23 months of declines.

The private-sector surveys come amid tentative signs of improvement in the U.S. economy.

Most retailers posted better-than-expected February sales results. [ID:nN04258755]

The number of U.S. workers filing new applications for unemployment insurance fell last week, a government report showed on Thursday, while those continuing to receive benefits dropped to the lowest level in over a year. Productivity rose [ID:nN04232780] (Reporting by Nick Zieminski, editing by Maureen Bavdek)

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