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Australia jobs jump in March, unemployment steady

Thursday, April 13, 2017 - 13:33

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Australia's jobless rate steadied at 5.9 per cent in March as employment surged the most in 1-1/2 years, a relief for the country's central bank which had been worried about recent labour market softness.

[SYDNEY] Australia's jobless rate steadied at 5.9 per cent in March as employment surged the most in 1-1/2 years, a relief for the country's central bank which had been worried about recent labour market softness.

The local dollar hopped up 20 ticks to US$0.7563 on the data, extending an overnight bounce that followed President Donald Trump complaining about the US currency being too strong.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed the jobless rate held at a 13-month peak of 5.9 per cent, in line with expectations. Yet employment leapt 64,900, far exceeding anticipation of a 20,000 increase. The highly volatile series showed that the gain was led by a 74,500 jump in full-time jobs, reversing a year-long decline during which all the increase in positions were for part-time ones.

That turnaround will be welcomed by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) which this month sounded a new note of caution on the labour market, fearing it could keep wages, and thus inflation, at uncomfortably low levels.

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Market voices on:

Economists did note the data was very erratic from month to month. The ABS itself said there were errors in some of the tables of the March report, but added they should not change the headline figures.

"There is still too much noise in the data," said Craig James, Sydney-based chief economist at CommSec. "But certainly the latest figures would cheer up the Reserve Bank. Given the dour commentary accompanying the April interest rate decision, policymakers could do with some cheering up."

Over the past year, Australia's unemployment rate had stayed in a snug 5.6-5.8 per cent range, but ticked higher to 5.9 per cent in February. Underemployment - in which people want more work but can't get it - is also near historic highs.

Leading indicators of labour demand have generally been more positive.

A measure of business conditions surged to a nine-year high in March with sturdy trading conditions and employment holding at a 16-month high while profitability was just shy of a recent two-year peak. A gauge of consumer confidence was also above long-term average.

"Continued improvement in full-time employment trends is supportive for our November RBA rate hike call," said Annette Beacher, chief FX and rates strategist at TD Securities.

The futures market is still pricing in around an 18 per cent of a rate cut by November.

REUTERS

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