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US job openings shrank in February to the lowest level in nearly a year, data on Tuesday showed, which could reflect the sharp slowdown in hiring that month.

The number of job openings fell to 7.1m in February — the lowest level since March 2018 — from 7.6m the previous month, according to the Department of Labor’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover (JOLT) report. That compared to economists’ expectations for 7.55m, according to a Thomson Reuters survey.

The data comes after the nonfarm payroll report showed hiring nearly ground to a halt in February but rebounded strongly in March, signalling the labour market remains healthy.

The report that was closely watched by former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen showed job openings fell sharply in trade, transportation and utilities to 1.29m, from 1.45m in January. “Anyone that has seen the overseas economic data and the US manufacturing news along with the decline in March hiring in this sector can understand why,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group.

The number of job openings also fell in the accommodation and food services and real estate and rental and leasing industries.

Meanwhile, the so-called quits rate, or the rate at which people voluntarily left their jobs was unchanged at 2.3 per cent for the ninth consecutive month. The quits rate is considered a gauge of workers’ confidence in the US labour market and their ability to find a new job and is also watched by the Fed for clues on wage pressures.

Despite the drop in job openings, they still outnumber unemployed people — which stood at nearly 6.2m in February — by nearly a million and suggest employees are in a position to negotiate higher wages.

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