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U.S. job openings recorded their biggest drop in more than four years in November, while hiring increased moderately, suggesting a loss of momentum in the labour market at the tail end of 2019.

Job openings, a measure of labour demand, tumbled 561,000 to 6.80 million, the Labor Department said in its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, on Friday. That was the biggest drop since August, 2015, and pushed job openings to their lowest level since March, 2018.

Economists said the decline in vacancies and moderate hiring were potentially signalling that employers were throttling back demand for workers. Still, job openings remain relatively high.

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“The labour market may be starting to lose its shine and may have peaked,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. “Anyone holding out for their dream job may have already missed the boat.”

Vacancies have been trending lower this year since hitting an all-time high of 7.63 million in late 2018. The decline in job openings in November was led by the private sector, which saw a decrease of 520,000 unfilled jobs. The drop in vacancies was concentrated in the retail and construction industries.

Government job openings fell 42,000 in November.

The job openings rate decreased to 4.3 per cent in November from 4.6 per cent in October. Hiring increased to 5.82 million in November from 5.78 million in October. The hiring rate was unchanged at 3.8 per cent in November.

The sharp drop in job openings suggests job growth will likely not accelerate much after slowing in December. The government reported last week that non-farm payrolls rose by 145,000 jobs in December, down from November’s robust increase of 256,000.

“We expect the labour market to moderate further in 2020,” said Sophia Koropeckyj, as senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “Although net job gains will fall below 100,000 during the year, we no longer expect net job losses during the second half of the year.”

The number of workers voluntarily quitting their jobs was little changed at 3.5 million in November. The quits rate was 2.3 per cent for the third straight month.

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The quits rate is viewed by policy makers and economists as a measure of job market confidence.

About 118,000 workers quit their jobs in the retail sector in November. There were also increases in quits in the wholesale trade and non-durable goods manufacturing industries.

Layoffs dropped to 1.75 million in November from 1.80 million in October. Layoffs decreased in the federal government. The layoffs rate dipped to 1.1 per cent from 1.2 per cent in October.

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