by Glenda KWEK
SYDNEY, Dec 11, 2014 (AFP) – Australia’s jobless rate hit a 12-year high in November, data showed Thursday, as more people looked for jobs in a softening economy hurt by falling commodity prices and weak Chinese demand.
Unemployment edged up to 6.3 percent as 42,700 jobs were added to the economy, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) said. The figure is up from 5.8 percent last November.
Full-time positions increased by 1,800 as part-time employment soared 40,800, with the data slightly stronger than economists’ expectations of 15,000 jobs created.
“Despite the unemployment rate printing a touch higher in rounded terms, November’s report was overall slightly better than the market expected, and suggested labour market conditions improved modestly in November,” ANZ economists Savita Singh and Riki Polygenis said.
“From here — and now that the ABS appears more comfortable with the veracity of the survey — we expect the unemployment rate to level out.”
The latest figures came two days after the ABS said it would accept all recommendations from an independent review into how the labour force survey is collated, following questions about its accuracy.
The review said the timing of supplementary surveys had contributed to the volatility in the monthly data.
The Australian dollar jumped a quarter of a cent to 83.7 US cents after the data release before easing slightly.
The participation rate — which measures the proportion of adults in work or looking for work — rose a seasonally adjusted 64.7 percent from 64.6 percent. Total aggregate hours worked fell 4.4 million hours to 1,610.6 million.
– ‘Room for lower interest rates’ –
Australia’s economy — which has avoided a recession for more than two decades — is struggling to shift towards non-mining-led growth with a sharp drop off in resources investment is expected next year.
Pressure is building on the Reserve Bank of Australia to cut interest rates from their record low of 2.5 percent following weaker-than-expected third-quarter GDP growth data released last week.
The slowdown in China, Australia’s largest trading partner, has weighed on the resources sector and hurt the wider economy, while tumbling commodity prices have hit the nation’s incomes.
Consumer confidence has fallen in the second half of the year, with the latest survey from Westpac Bank and the Melbourne Institute released on Wednesday showing that sentiment had weakened to its lowest since August 2011.
National Australia Bank senior economist David de Garis said while there has been growth outside the resources sector, jobs were not being created at a sufficient pace.
The increase in the underemployment rate — from 13.5 percent a year ago to 15.0 percent in the latest figures — was also pointing to the slack in the labour market, de Garis told AFP.
“The labour market is creating some jobs, but they are part-time and not a lot of income growth… that would be fuelling a pick-up in consumer spending right now,” he added.
“So it seems from a domestic demand point-of-view, there is room for the RBA to ease further without creating inflationary pressure.”