REFILE-UPDATE 1-Australia job advertisements post biggest annual drop in 5 years

(Fixes year-before comparison period to February in 3rd paragraph)

SYDNEY, March 4 (Reuters) - Australian job advertisements in newspapers and on the internet slipped for a fourth straight month in February, posting its biggest annual decline in five years and pointing to challenges ahead for the labour market.

Monday’s figures from Australia and New Zealand Banking Group showed total job advertisements fell 0.9 percent in February, from January when they dipped 1.7 percent.

Ads averaged 169,568 a week, 4.3 percent lower than in February last year.

After a strong start to 2018, job ads have been on a virtually uninterrupted downtrend with only three monthly gains over the past 12 months, ANZ noted.

“The year ahead looks to be more challenging on the employment front,” said ANZ’s head of Australian economics David Plank.

“Even with this decline the level of ANZ Job Ads is still consistent with ongoing employment growth. And other data, such as the ABS job vacancies series, are more positive,” Plank said.

“If we combine a bunch of these data we get the ANZ Labour Market Indicator, which points to a stable rather than rising unemployment rate even in the face of weaker employment growth.”

Australia’s labour market tightened steadily through 2018 with the unemployment rate hitting a 6-1/2 year trough of 5 percent in January.

While there is still spare capacity left in the market, questions remain over whether the momentum of the last two years can continue. (Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Sam Holmes & Shri Navaratnam)