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Russia Sheds 300,000 Jobs In February

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Another 300,000 Russians lost their jobs in February bringing total layoffs to more than a million since the beginning of December while retail sales fell for the first time in a decade.

The number of people unemployed in Russia was 6.4 million, or 8.5 percent of the workforce, at the end of February, the Federal Statistics Service said on March 19.

In January, the service also reported that around 300,000 people lost their jobs following 500,000 losses in December.

Government officials have said they expect Russian companies to continue cutting the workforce with big layoffs expected in April, which could bring unemployment rates closer to highs of 9.2 million seen in the socially unstable 1990s.

The government, which on March 19 was debating a new revised budget, had to slash spending in the face of falling prices for commodities, but has said it would spend more on social needs to protect stability.

The unemployment figure was the highest since March 2004 and slightly above analysts' expectations of 8.4 percent in a Reuters poll.

February retail sales fell 2.4 percent year-on-year after a revised 3.1 percent rise in January and compared to a forecast of 0.3 percent annual growth in a Reuters poll.

It was the first fall since September 1999 after a decade of consumer boom, which was fuelled by rising incomes and cheap credit.

Completions of housing units based on square metres rose by 7.4 percent year-on-year, but were down 9.5 percent versus January.

Capital investment by companies fell 14.1 percent year-on-year to 439.7 billion roubles ($12.77 billion). Analysts had forecast a year-on-year decrease of 15.5 percent.