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The percentage of businesses planning to increase recruitment of college and high school graduates topped that of those planning cuts for the first time in three years, according to a Labor Ministry report released Monday.

On May 1, the ministry surveyed 5,342 businesses with workforces of more than 30. Valid replies came from 2,691 of the firms.

Of the respondents, 13 percent plan to hire more liberal-arts graduates in March 2001 than in the corresponding month this year, up from the 6 percent that increased recruitment this spring. Eleven percent of respondents planned recruitment cuts, down 14 percentage points.

Fourteen percent of employers of engineering students plan to increase recruitment, up 5 percentage points, while 10 percent are planning employment cuts, down 13 points.

As for hirers of high school graduates, 13 percent plan to increase employment, up 5 percentage points, while 12 percent intend to cut recruitment, down 14 points.

A labor market index — calculated by subtracting the percentage of companies with surplus workers from those reporting labor shortages — now reads minus 10, an improvement of 2 points from the previous survey in February.

The index hit its worst reading of minus 20 in May 1999.