Headline labour force figures ok, but details reveal softness: CBA's Gareth Aird

Headline labour force figures ok, but details reveal softness: CBA's Gareth Aird
Headline labour force figures ok, but details reveal softness: CBA's Gareth Aird

GUEST OBSERVER

Today’s modest increase in employment of 10.8k was pretty much in line with market expectations which were centred on a lift of 12.0k (CBA(f) +20k).

The lift in jobs builds on the solid rise in employment over March and confirms that job creation is still taking place despite record low (and falling) wages growth. The pulse of jobs growth, however, has slowed since the beginning of the year after accelerating markedly in the December quarter. Digging below the surface shows that today’s employment report is softer than the headline numbers imply.

The trend: Cutting through the volatility shows that monthly jobs growth over the past four months has averaged just 6.5k. Normally such an outcome would be associated with an increase in the unemployment rate. But a downward trend in the participation rate has meant that the unemployment rate has actually come down over that period.

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Headline labour force figures ok, but details reveal softness: CBA's Gareth Aird

Unemployment: The unemployment rate was able to hold firm at 5.7 percent in April because the participation rate moved a touch lower. The trend unemployment rate, which smooths out the monthly volatility, continued to edge lower.

Hours worked: Growth in aggregate hours worked has eased over the past few months.

Total aggregate hours worked fell by 1.1 percent in April and took the annual change into negative territory (-0.5 percent) for the first time since May 2013. On the surface, this looks at odds with the annual change in the level of employment (+2.1 percent). But the disparity is explained by the big lift in part-time jobs over the past year. There have been twice as many part-time jobs (161k) created as full-time jobs (83.8k).

States: Across the States, there were job gains in NSW (+8.4k), Vic (+0.7k) and SA (5.7k). Employment was flat in WA and TAS while it fell in QLD (-6.6k). NSW and Vic have been driving national employment growth. Booming property markets in both Sydney and Melbourne have supported household consumption in NSW and Victoria, which is largely to the benefit of the services sector.

Leading indicators: The leading indicators of employment growth are painting a mixed picture at present. The vacancies series are pointing to only modest jobs growth, but the NAB business survey continues to suggest robust jobs growth.

The fall in hours worked looks concerning, but then the downward trend in the unemployment rate appears optically comforting. So there is something in the numbers for those looking at them with either an optimistic or pessimistic lens.

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Headline labour force figures ok, but details reveal softness: CBA's Gareth Aird

We would argue that the RBA is viewing the labour market through a realistic lens and their latest assessment that, “employment would continue to grow, but at a somewhat slower pace than had been evident over the previous year” looks about right.

RBA: Today’s figures on their own don’t really shift the dial from an RBA perspective for the June meeting. But when pieced together with yesterday’s very soft wages report it may be that the risks of a June cut are lifting a little. The capex report next week now takes on added importance for those picking the timing of another expected cut to the cash rate.

Gareth Aird is economist at Commonwealth Bank and can be contacted here.

 

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Labour

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