March 5, 2020 / 9:23 AM / a month ago

China's jobseekers cast uneasy eye on opportunities in virus-hit economy

BEIJING/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - China’s job market is showing signs of recovery as firms resume operations and an easing of measures to contain a coronavirus allow hundreds of millions of people to leave their hometowns for big cities in search of work.

A woman wearing a face mask and raincoat is seen on a street as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Shanghai, China March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

Twenty-one of mainland China’s 31 regions have lowered emergency response levels on the flu-like epidemic, allowing greater movement of people and goods and a recovery in business activity.

Data from China’s transport ministry showed three consecutive days this week of declining passenger flows nationwide, suggesting worker movement has peaked after the extended Lunar New Year holiday.

(GRAPHIC - China's passenger travel flows: here)

A survey by major recruitment website Zhaopin, showed the number of job postings in China rose 21.4%, and applications increased 35.1%, last week from the prior week.

The “competition index” or number of resumes received per vacancy, climbed to 12.3 across the 38 cities monitored.

That compares to 9.1 in the week after the prolonged holiday, and 18.1 in the corresponding 2019 period.

(GRAPHIC - Zhaopin job competition index in China: here)

First-time job seekers will have their work cut out just to find work: About 8.74 million high school and university graduates will potentially look to join the workforce in 2020, up 5% from 2019.

To accommodate slackening labor demand caused by the coronavirus, the education ministry has said China will expand enrolment places in postgraduate programs by 189,000.

(GRAPHIC - Zhaopin job competition index in China's major cities: here)

“Students have already been under big pressure, looking for jobs,” education ministry official Weng Tiehui told a news briefing. “The coronavirus outbreak is making the pressure even bigger.”

By Feb. 28, the Zhaopin survey found, 27% of employees were still not back at work, from among 9,038 respondents, with more than a third saying their companies remained shut or faced bankruptcy.

More than 70% of the surveyed recruiters plan to cut staff, or remain uncertain about recruitment plans amid the virus outbreak.

Entertainment, sports, hotels and restaurants are among the worst hit by the coronavirus, after authorities banned public gatherings to limit the risk of contagion.

(GRAPHIC - Proportion of firms not resuming business by industry: here)

Economists at brokerage and investment bank Nomura compiled a business resumption rate (BRR) index showing that Chinese businesses are resuming work, but at a slow pace, as overall activity remains constrained.

(GRAPHIC - Nomura business resumption index: here)

Ping An Bank (000001.SZ) estimated average work resumption among its 600 small- and micro-business (SME) clients climbed to 78% by Monday, from 59% the prior week.

But a fifth of the companies that had already reopened operated at less than half of capacity.

(GRAPHIC - Production capacity at firms already resumed operation: here)

Reporting by Muyu Xu in Beijing and Gavin Maguire in Singapore; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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