The announcement of unemployment figures sliding from 5.7 to 5.4% yesterday gave the media another chance to call an end to the recession. Or not.

Initial reports seemed very hopeful that the announcement would indicate an end to the financial doom and gloom. “If the current trend keeps up, it could be the shortest recession in history” said CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian.

The current GFC will not prove as bad as the 90s recession we “had to have”, argues George Megalogenis in The Australian. “The gloomsters — and there are too many to name and shame — need to accept a simple truth: Australia should get out of this recession without mass retrenchments because employers want to hang on to their staff.”

But Tim Colebatch, writing in The Age, was still determined to be a gloomster:

So is the recession over already? Unfortunately, no.

As usual, the frothing markets ignored the warnings the bureau puts on its seasonally adjusted numbers. They are based on a sample survey, and samples vary. They cannot give the level of precision that the markets, politicians and journalists keep ascribing to them.

The accuracy of the numbers, said Colebatch, should be regarded cautiously: “employment might have risen by 88,000, or fallen by 33,000, or been somewhere in between.”

Others also regarded the new figures as chance. “Blame it on the dirty little secret of economic statistics called sampling error” argued Michael Stutchbury.

As for Rudd and co, they were playing it cool, desperately trying to avoid being hoisted by their own petard down the track. The Government “simply did not believe the figures, or allow itself to”, writes Phillip Coorey in The Sydney Morning Herald. “It would not even gloat that the stimulus packages were responsible.”

Said Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, “We’re not getting carried away with one month’s figures”.

Peter Fray

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