Mixed messages from today’s jobs data

Today’s release by the ABS of labour force data for January paints a rather confusing picture depending on which set of numbers you wish to focus on. For a start jobs grew by more than expected (+13,500 against an expectation of +10,000) and, in addition, data for Jan was revised for almost an additional 3,000 last month too (all seasonally adjusted data). However, the full-time data appeared very weak (down 44,800) which, even allowing for a small revision upwards in Jan’s numbers, was a shock.

Nevertheless, the ABS-preferred Trend series had employment rising by 11,700 (and more than 4,000 added to Dec on revision) and full-time jobs actually up by 6,600; which is the 4th month of full-time job increases.

The headline (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate only really fell slightly (to 5.7% from 5.8%) on the back of a dip in the participation rate. You would struggle to portray these numbers as very strong (Trend employment growth is still only +0.8% y/y), but it’s equally unwise to focus solely on the seasonally adjusted full-time jobs shock as evidence of overwhelming weakness.

At a state level for Queensland things are likewise confused. Similar to the nation, seasonally adjusted data showed an increase in employment (+8,500) but a big drop in full-time jobs (-28,100) with full-time jobs in Dec also revised weaker. The headline unemployment rate ticked  higher (to 6.3% from 6.2%) largely on the back of higher participation . However, Trend data shows employment now up for the 3rd month (+2,000) and the unemployment rate stable at 6.1%. Unfortunately, unlike at the national level, Trend full-time jobs are still falling in the state; and have been for 12 straight months; down 2,300 this month and down 42,600 over the year.

It’s hard to not see this state data as weak, despite the slight improvement in total jobs over the past 3 months. Trend employment is falling at 1.2% y/y at the moment and there’s really no way to make that sound like good news!


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