December 14, 2017 / 2:15 AM / 7 months ago

UPDATE 1-Australian jobs growth surges, unemployment near 5-year lows

* November employment rises by 61,600 vs 18,000 forecast

* Nov unemployment rate at 5.4 pct, unchanged from Oct

* Aussie dlr pops up to a five-week high (Adds economist comment, more data metrics, milestones, updates A$ level)

By Swati Pandey and Wayne Cole

SYDNEY, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Australian employment surged past all expectations in November, rising the most in more than two years and extending a dream run of 14 straight months of gains, while the jobless rate remained near five-year lows.

Thursday’s figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed a lofty 61,600 net new jobs were added last month, compared with forecasts for an 18,000 rise and above an upwardly revised 7,800 gain in October.

To put things in perspective, a comparable increase in U.S. payrolls would be 736,000. Australia’s annual jobs growth rate at 3.2 percent is more than twice the U.S. pace of 1.4 percent and the second fastest on record.

The strong set of numbers sent the Australian dollar higher by more than a quarter of a U.S. cent to $0.7673, a level not seen since early November.

The detail in Thursday’s data was also upbeat with full-time jobs climbing 41,900, bringing gains since November 2016 to a blistering 304,600.

The unemployment rate stayed at 5.4 percent as more people went looking for work, matching the lowest reading since February 2013. The participation rate hopped to 65.5 percent, heights not seen since early 2011.

The data will be welcomed by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) which is hoping the solid run in employment would ultimately lead to higher wages growth and inflation.

Yet, interest rate futures still imply an increase in the 1.50 percent cash rate is months away, with a hike not fully priced in until early 2019.

SNAIL-PACED WAGES

“There is still some slack in the labour market and further jobs gains are required to lift wages,” said Ryan Felsman, Sydney-based senior economist at CommSec.

While firms are scooping up workers, they are not so keen on paying them more, leaving wage growth near record lows and putting an unwelcome cap on consumer spending and inflation.

“The wages growth puzzle still needs to be resolved before the Reserve Bank moves interest rates,” Felsman added. “Therefore, official interest rates are unlikely to change until at least late next year.”

The scrooge-like pace of wage rises is a major reason the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) last month forecast core inflation would not reach the floor of its 2 to 3 percent target band until early 2019, a year later than previously hoped.

Wages growth is crawling at 2.0 percent, only a sliver above inflation of 1.8 percent. That is curtailing the spending power of Australian consumers who are already saddled with a mountain of debt.

Australia’s biggest department store Myer Holdings on Thursday issued a profit warning just 10 days before Christmas, saying a slump in customer footfall would make first-half earnings “substantially lower” than a year ago.

Figures out last week showed Australia’s economy accelerated at an annual 2.8 percent pace in the third quarter, but household consumption, which accounts for 58 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, rose just 0.1 percent. (Reporting by Swati Pandey and Wayne Cole; Editing by Sam Holmes & Shri Navaratnam)

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