Bay Area hiring plans remain soft

Business leaders in the San Jose, Oakland, Walnut Creek and San Francisco areas have a soft outlook for hiring plans in the coming six months amid a wobbly national economy, a survey released Friday by the Bay Area Council shows.

Bay Area businesses typically are planning to keep their employment levels the same, the council's survey of 400 CEOs and top executives in the Bay Area determined.

An estimated 58 percent of the executives who were surveyed during the summer said they will keep their staffing levels the same, 30 percent planned to increase staffing, while 11 percent planned job cuts. During the spring, 53 percent planned no changes in job totals, 31 percent planned to hire and 13 percent were planning employment cuts.

Santa Clara County, San Mateo County and East Bay business leaders expressed the most uncertainty about hiring plans, the survey determined.

The council's poll found that 63 percent in Santa Clara County and 64 percent in San Mateo County saying they expect to keep their workforce the same size over the next six months. An estimated 65 percent of East Bay business leaders planned no changes in hiring.

Safeway draws weaker outlook from Fitch

Pleasanton-based Safeway was the subject of a lowered outlook from Fitch Ratings, primarily because of concerns over weak sales for the supermarket giant and its shrinking market share.

The rating agency imposed a "BBB" long-term default rating on Safeway, which is Fitch's lowest investment grade rating.

Fitch did commend Safeway for "healthy" cash flow from its stores. Safeway has renovated numerous existing stores and opened new ones to attract shoppers.

Safeway, though, has lost market share, Fitch stated. Discount retailers such as Target and Walmart, along with others, have beefed up their grocery offerings. Plus, new entrants, such as Whole Foods and Sprouts Farmers Market, have broadened their presence in the Bay Area.

Shares of Safeway fell 1.2 percent, or 19 cents a share, to finish at $16.38.

-- Staff