Regional labour data shows Cairns slightly weaker, Townsville much better

The ABS released their regional labour force data for February this morning. As always, the original, unadjusted ABS data needs some analysis if we are to see a clear picture. Our preferred analysis tool is the Conus Trend series. In light of the generally weak QLD data for Feb released last week (see here for commentary) there is little surprise that we see some weakness in the regional data today.

In Cairns, after 7 months of Trend employment gains, Feb sees a small reduction of 100 to 115,000. Despite the Feb dip, Cairns has added 6,600 new jobs over the past 12 months. The Trend Participation Rate (PR) also increased in Feb (to 62.3 from 62.0) to its highest level in more than three years. This move up in Participation is the main reason for a move up in the Trend unemployment rate even though employment was barely weaker. The Conus Trend unemployment rate moved higher to 6.8% (from an upwardly revised 6.5% in Jan).

Although the Trend unemployment rate in Cairns has now moved higher for 2 months, we would caution against reading too much into that fact. The increases have come in the face of a sharp move upwards in the Trend Participation Rate over the past 5 months; such an increase in PR will always make bringing the unemployment rate lower a tough ask but points towards a more buoyant labour market in general. We would also note that, given the nature of these Trend figures, we recommend seeing at least 3 months of a change in direction before jumping to conclusions. All things considered, we still believe the labour market in Cairns is firm and that we are likely to see the Trend employment levels and unemployment rate reflect that in coming months (perhaps with these weaker months seeing revisions to come).

In Townsville the modest improvements we have noted in the past few months have continued in Feb. Trend employment increased by 900 in Feb (the same as in Jan) and finally sees the 12 month total for Townsville move slightly positive (+300 over the year). We have now seen Trend employment increase for the past 8 months (albeit modestly) which would appear to confirm the improving story. Trend PR in Townsville has also increased (to 60.4 from 60.0) although this is still well below where it sat just 18 months ago. Despite the increase in PR the Townsville Trend unemployment rate has continued to drop and now stands at 10.6% (down from 11.2% in Jan). Nevertheless, Townsville remains the region with QLD’s highest Trend unemployment rate.

As the second chart below makes clear, the recovery in Cairns has been complete while Townsville still has a long way to go.

When we consider the issue of full-time and part-time employment we see that the disparity that had been opened between Greater Brisbane and the Rest of QLD has started to close. In the past four months the Rest of Queensland has added about 4,000 full-time positions while Greater Brisbane has lost about 10,000. All the same, over the past 12 months Greater Brisbane has still lost only 11,700 full-time jobs while the Rest of Queensland has lost 28,500. The gap is closing but there is still a way to go.

In Cairns full-time jobs are up 1,400 over the year while Townsville has also registered an extra 1,400.

Youth unemployment in the North remains a problem although some improvements are also being seen here. Cairns Trend youth unemployment rate increased slightly in Feb to 15.3% but is still down 16.1% from a year earlier. Over the 12 months we have seen youth employment increase by 2,800. Unfortunately in Townsville things are worse. The Trend youth unemployment rate now stands at 26.6% which is 12.7% higher than a year before. Youth employment has fallen in Townsville by 8,500 over the year.

The full set of Conus Trend data for all the QLD SA4 regions is available for download below. Please feel free to use this data (for non-commercial purposes) but we would appreciate you acknowledging Conus when you do so.

Conus Trend Regional Jobs QLD – Feb 2017


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