Regional Jobs shows Cairns slightly weaker; Townsville further improved

Today’s ABS regional labour force data for April needs to be looked at through the lens of the Conus Trend to make any real sense.

What the data shows us is Cairns slightly weaker while Townsville continues its trend of improvements (from a low base). The Conus Trend unemployment rate for Cairns now sits at 6.1% (up from 5.9% in March) which remains well below the 6.4% at a State level. Jobs remained virtually unchanged (less than 100 down) while the Trend participation rate eased to 61.6 (from 61.8). Over the course of the past 12 months Trend employment now sits 8,000 higher with annual employment growth of 7.4%. 6,000 of those new Trend jobs have been part-time with full-time up just 2,000.

To our south Townsville continues the trend of the past few months and sees good employment growth in April (up 1,700), although March’s gain was revised slightly lower (+1,800 from +2,200). The Trend unemployment rate now sits at 8.3% (down from 9.1% in March) but remains the second highest in the State. Over the past year Townsville has seen 9,800 new Trend jobs, which have come predominantly from full-time positions. Trend employment growth in Townsville now sits at 10.1%, which is the third fastest in the State.

Townsville is clearly recovering from the sharp downturn of last year, although it will be interesting to see whether uncertainty around the outcome of the Adani discussions (or the possible cancellation of the project) will impact jobs and confidence in coming months.

The Trend unemployment rate in Greater Brisbane edged sightly higher to 6.3% while it sits at 6.5% for the Rest of Queensland.

The Cairns Trend youth unemployment rate (which even after Trending remains a highly volatile series) sits at 16.1% up from 14.7% in March (which was in turn revised sharply higher). In Townsville the rate is 19.1% but this is now only the third highest rate in the State.

The full set of Conus Trend data 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 – Apr 2017

New Conus Industry Trend data shows the problems Townsville faces

Each quarter the ABS produce data showing the levels of employment in each industry for the various labour force regions. Unfortunately this data is only provided on an unadjusted, 4-quarters average basis and as a result is a very lagged indicator. So, in the same way that we have been doing for some time with the monthly ABS regional labour force data, we wanted to produce a series, utilising this raw ABS data, that would give clients and policy-makers a more timely and responsive data-set when considering industry employment in the regions.

We still have some work to do before we’re ready to launch the full data-set for all the QLD SA4 regions (we anticipate a full launch in time for the next quarterly release of ABS data in June) but at this stage wanted to share with readers some initial findings with regard to Townsville.

To construct this data-set we have had to dis-aggregate the 4-quarters average data from the ABS. We’ve then adjusted and trended that dis-aggregated data to create the Conus Industry Trend for regional employment.

Looking across the 19 ANZSIC industry categories in Townsville, and comparing to the data from a decade earlier highlights the breadth of the slow-down seen.

We can see that only 6 of the 19 industry sectors have seen any increase in employment numbers (this during a period in which the population of Townsville increased by at least 37,000). Of those 6 industries only 3 have seen growth of 2,000 or more (Public Admin, Health Care and Transport). Major declines have been seen in Construction (down almost 6,000), Manufacturing and Retail Trade (both down almost 2,000) and falls of about 1,000 in many other sectors. The downturn in the Townsville economy has clearly been broad-based and impacted a large majority of industry sectors with a total loss of almost 6,000 jobs over the decade.

The full Conus Industry Trend series for all QLD SA4 regions is anticipated to be available after the release of the ABS Quarterly Labour Force data in June.

Note: The ABS Regional Jobs data will be released this Thursday (25th) at which time we will be updating our monthly Conus Trend Regional QLD Labour Force series.

QLD unemployment rate stays static, but this is a strong report for the State

Today saw the release of the ABS Labour Force data for April and it came in well above market expectations. Total employment (seasonally adjusted) rose 37,400 (expected +4-5,000) with the headline unemployment rate falling to 5.7% (from 5.9%). Unlike March, when the gains all came in the full-time sector, April saw full-time jobs drop 11,600. Nevertheless, full-time positions are up over 100,000 in the past 6 months. On the less volatile (and preferred) Trend measure we saw 19,900 new jobs with March data revised stronger. In the past 6 months the Trend series shows 120,000 new positions.

In Queensland the headline, seasonally adjusted, unemployment rate remained stuck at 6.3% (and the Trend at 6.4%) despite some good jobs growth; the reason being a Participation Rate that moved to its highest level in a year. Seasonally adjusted jobs were up 14,500 (with March revised up to +32,600 from +28,800) although, like at the national level, full-time positions dipped by 800. The Trend series shows an increase in employment of 6,600 after March was revised up to +6,800 (from +4,400). In the past 6 months Trend jobs are up by 31,100; which is the strongest period of jobs growth in Queensland since Dec 2015 (see second chart below).

Media still pushing old news about unemployment in Cairns

A piece in today’s Australian (read it here) perpetuates the old news that youth unemployment in Cairns is running at crisis levels. In this case the article quotes Cairns youth unemployment rate at 27.5%. As regular readers will know, this figure would appear to be the “official” 12 month moving average of the unadjusted original ABS data. The article quotes a Treasury document prepared for the Queensland government “late last year” at which time the 12 month moving average youth unemployment rate was about the quoted 27.5% level.

However, this extremely lagged measure of unemployment can be improved upon by utilising the Conus Trend which, at the end of last year, already had Trend Youth unemployment in Cairns down to 14.0%; and has subsequently fallen further still.

The problem with this focus on the 12 month moving average data can be seen clearly when we consider the most recent (March) data. The “official” 12 month moving average number remains elevated at 21.6% (note this is already a sharp decline from the number quoted in The Australian’s article today) but the Conus Trend sits at just 10.2%. With the “official” data still telling us that youth unemployment remains very high in Cairns, it is worth noting that the ABS original data hasn’t had a rate above 17.5% for 6 months and the most recent reading was just 7.3% (the lowest in almost 5 years). The 12 month moving average is simply not responsive enough to changes in the underlying data to allow for sensible decisions and positions to be taken based upon it.

In the past 6 months the original average level of youth unemployment in Cairns is just 12.4%. If nothing significant happens with regard to youth employment in the next six months then by September the Treasury will be reporting youth unemployment in Cairns at just 12.4% and those who believed the “official” numbers will be scratching their heads wondering what on earth happened since March to bring it down so sharply from 21.6%! In fact nothing will have happened during that period; the improvement had already happened but their data hadn’t picked it up.

I fully accept that our Trend estimates are subject to revision and the scale of the improvement seen over recent months may well be exaggerated, and therefore liable to revision, but the fact remains that to suggest that youth unemployment in Cairns is still at crisis levels is simply misleading. 

The Treasury report from the end of 2016 is quoted as saying that “there has been a relatively slow pick-up in labour-market demand” in Cairns. If we are only considering the lagged Treasury 12 month moving average data that may well be true. But since July last year those with an eye on the Conus Trend employment data for Cairns have been well aware of a significant pick-up in jobs which, even as early as the end of last year, had identified almost 8,000 new jobs over the previous 5 months; with another 1,000 added since.

It’s time that the Treasury and media stopped pushing the old, tired news that Cairns is some kind of employment black-hole when the reality proves different. This kind of negative reporting and thinking not only leads to bad policy making but it also negatively impacts sentiment in the region, an impediment to future improvements.


Jobs data makes for interesting reading

We’ve just returned from a couple of weeks in SE Asia so have some catching up to do. First thing on the agenda was the labour force data for March released last week. We saw the headline (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate remain stable at 5.9% despite a very sharp addition of 60,900 new jobs; the reason an increase in the Participation Rate to 64.8. The much stronger jobs number came after the Feb data was revised to a 2,800 increase (rather than a 6,400 drop). Even more positively, full time employment was up a thumping 74,500 for the month.

The rather less dramatic, and therefore preferred, Trend measure was also better with 16,500 new jobs added (Feb was revised higher to +17,700 from +11,600) although the Trend unemployment rate actually nudged higher to 5.9% (from 5.8%) on the back of those higher PR numbers. However you look at it, this is a strong set of data for the nation. Seasonally adjusted employment is now up 145,900 over the past 12 months with 67,800 of those full time positions.

Queensland also saw improvements. The headline data showed an extra 28,800 new jobs (of which 33,100 were full time) and the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped sharply to 6.3% (from a revised 6.6% in Feb). Participation was also much firmer at 64.6 (up from 64.1) and this will have stopped the unemployment rate dropping even further.

The Trend series also improved with 4,400 new jobs and Feb revised from +1,600 to +4,300. March’s increase in Trend employment is the strongest since Dec 2015. As the second chart below makes clear, things are certainly improving in the Sunshine State. Further analysis of the QLD data can be found from Gene Tunny at Adept Economics here and here.

The regional labour force data which was released this morning makes some very interesting reading. We shall be spending more time analysing the data tomorrow; but having crunched the numbers and formulated the Conus Trend series a number of major points become obvious.

Regional QLD is rapidly closing the gap on Greater Brisbane

In March, Trend employment in the Rest of Queensland was up 3,800 while Greater Brisbane could manage just 700 (note that totals may not add to the ABS Trend data due to rounding). Even more significantly, the Rest of Queensland increase included 3,000 full time positions while Greater Brisbane added just 100. Over the course of the past 6 months Greater Brisbane has shed 10,300 full time positions while the Rest of Queensland has added 9,300; and almost all of these are coming from the Bush (i.e. Rest of Queensland minus SEQ). Regions that have contributed to this growth are Townsville (see commentary below) which added 8,100; Wide Bay +4,100, Mackay +3,000, Cairns +2,400 and Toowoomba +1,400.

Townsville’s recovery is well underway

There can now be little doubt that things have turned a corner in Townsville. Trend employment was up 2,200 in March, this is the 8th consecutive month of Trend increases. The Trend unemployment rate has fallen sharply to 9.3%, although it remains the second highest in the State (after Outback at 12.8%). Employment growth over the past 12 months (admittedly from a weak base) now sits at +7.6% pa and is the third best in the State.

However, in spite of this solid employment growth the number in jobs remains well below the highs seen back in 2011.

The improvements in Cairns remain on track

Last month saw some deterioration in the Cairns Trend data on the back of a weak original number. We cautioned at the time reading too much into one month’s numbers and suggested that things could well get revised later. That has indeed happened with a return to some good numbers in March. Trend employment rose just 100 (Feb was revised to +200) but the Trend unemployment for Feb was revised sharply lower to 5.7% and has edged slightly higher this month to 5.8%. One month of a small worsening tells us next to nothing. What the data shows us over the past 12 months is that Trend employment in Cairns has been increasing at an average of about 670 per month and the unemployment rate has fallen from 9.1% to 5.8%.

The rate at which the employment:working population measure has improved in both Cairns and Townsville highlights the ongoing improvements being seen in the North generally.

Of particular interest is the level of Trend youth unemployment which has now fallen below the levels seen in Greater Brisbane and sits at just 10.2%. The scale of this decline needs to be treated with a great deal of caution (high volatility within the sub-set Trend series is to be expected) but, nevertheless, it is clear that the issue of very high youth unemployment in Cairns can no longer be touted as a major concern.

The complete Conus Trend data set for regional Queensland is available for download below (free for non-commercial use). Please feel free to use the data but we would appreciate you acknowledging Conus when you do so.

Conus Trend Regional Jobs QLD – March 2017

Job Seeker data confirms the generally better picture in Cairns

Regular readers will be well aware that there are various ways to look at the labour market; the standard “unemployment rate”being just one of them. Another, less well known measure, is provided by the Dept of Social Services in their monthly payment recipients data.

Our own Conus Trend series for Cairns SA4, based on the original ABS regional data, showed a slight edge up in Trend unemployment in February to 6.8% (see here for details). The Dept of Social Security payment recipients data released late last week was a little more positive and appears to confirm the generally improving trend in the Cairns labour market that we’ve been seeing for the past 9 months.

When looking at data for our region we sum the Dept of Social Service totals for the Atherton, Cairns, Innisfail, Mareeba, Mossman and Yarrabah Service Zones. These Service Zones, when taken together, may not precisely correspond to the Cairns SA4 region but are as good an approximation as we can get. Given the volatile nature of this original, unadjusted data series we have created a Conus Trend Job Seekers Rate using the trend number of payment recipients as a percentage of the Conus Trend Labour Force.

It needs stressing that how the Dept of Social Service count those who are seeking jobs and receiving allowances is very different from how the ABS define someone as “unemployed”. The rules around who receives what allowance also change over time so this is a data set that has to be treated with caution if making comparisons over periods when changes have occurred. As a result of these caveats we stress that the absolute levels may be difficult to reconcile with other measures, but the movements in Trends (at least over periods when rules don’t change) can provide us with useful supporting evidence.

It would seem that the improvements being seen in the Conus Trend series over the previous 9 months are being reflected (albeit slowly) in the Dept of Social Services data with the Trend Job Seekers rate now at an almost-two-year low of 8.26%

The changing face of work in Cairns and Townsville

Yesterday saw the ABS release their February monthly regional labour force data, and our own Conus Trend series (see here for details). The ABS also released their quarterly data on regional employment by industry sector for the February quarter. This is presented on a quarterly basis as a rolling 4-quarter average, and as such should not be directly compared with our own Conus Trend monthly data.

Given the quarterly, averaged, nature of this data set it isn’t terribly useful as an indicator of actual employment levels right now; but what it does allow us to do is look at the changes in the landscape of work over the past 10 years. The charts below show the actual levels of employment in both Cairns and Townsville and also track the changes in the number of people employed in each industry over the past decade. Note that the ABS use the ANZSIC Industry classifications which do not include a “tourism” industry. Employment within the tourism sector is spread across multiple industries such as Accommodation & Food, Arts & Recreation Services, Retail Trade, Transport etc.


The big winners over the past 10 years in Cairns have been Health Care and Education with Construction being the biggest loser. Retail Trade remains the single largest employer, but this sector has only returned to that position in the last few quarters; prior to that both Health Care and Education had been larger.

The big difference we notice with Townsville is the fact that Health Care is such a clear winner in terms of total employed. Over the past decade Retail Trade and Construction have been the big losers in the region. Public Administration has seen the greatest growth with Health Care only slightly behind.


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