- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

NEW YORK, Feb. 27 (UPI) — The Conference Board said Thursday its measure of help-wanted advertising, a key barometer of America's job market, inched higher in January indicating Corporate America's hiring intentions are not expected to turn bullish in the near term.

The group said its help-wanted index, which measures advertising volume in 51 major newspapers across the country, inched up 1 point to 40 from 39 in December. The Board noted the index stood at 47 one year ago.

Most economists on Wall Street were expecting the index to remain unchanged during the month.

In addition to providing insight on the general strength of the economy, the report gives a sense of how many jobs employers are trying to fill.

If that number is relatively high, it could mean there is a shortage of available workers and companies may have to offer higher wages to attract them.

This leads to wage inflation, which is bad news for the stock and bond markets.

Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan talks about it all the time and watches for it constantly.

Conference Board Economist Ken Goldstein said, "The fact that job advertising was no higher in January 2003 than in October 2002 shows how flat the labor market has been.

"Hiring intentions are not expected to turn more bullish as long as the overall economy remains stuck in neutral," Goldstein said.

The latest report showed in the last three months, help-wanted advertising increased in five out of nine of the U.S. regions.

The largest increases occurred in the Mountain region, where ads jumped 20.1 percent and in the South Atlantic region, where ads rose 12 percent. Help-wanted also rose 8.7 percent in the New England region.

The Board said the steepest declines occurred in the Middle Atlantic region, where ads fell 9.3 percent, in the East North Central region, where ads declined 5 percent and in the West South Central region, where ads declined 4.1 percent.

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