As we close in on the end of 2009, the year that was almost the year from hell, a third month of solid employment growth has added to the flow of strongly positive data about the economy.

Another 31,000 jobs created last month, 30,000 of those full-time, as the Australian economy charges out of the mid-year slump and positions itself for another surge in 2010.

The latest employment figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics today  also show that the unemployment rate dipped to 5.7% from 5.8% the previous month (The rate has steadied about this level since April).

Market forecasts have centred on just 5000 new jobs and the rate edging up to 5.9%. The ABS report had the rabbits in the markets punting on more rate rises in early 2010, as there will be if the strength in these figures continues. After all, the Reserve Bank lifted rates in the belief the economy was strengthening.

The number of hours worked rose and the untilisation rate eased.

“The number of people employed in November increased by 31,200 (0.3%) to 10.868 million, seasonally adjusted,” the ABS reported. The rise in employment was driven by a rise in full-time employment, up 30,800 to 7.627 million.”

The ABS said the seasonally adjusted number of people unemployed decreased by 13,300 in November, standing at 653,100. The ABS seasonally adjusted monthly aggregate hours worked series showed a rise in November, up 13.4 million hours (0.9%) to 1,536.3 million hours. The ABS participation rate in November was 65.2%, seasonally adjusted.

The ABS seasonally adjusted labour force under-utilisation rate was 13.5% in November, down 0.1% from August..

The figures hold out further hope that the peak unemployment rate will be much closer to 6%, or perhaps a touch under than the range of 6.2% to 6.5% from private and government forecasters.

In fact the economy has created 100,000 jobs since August, according to today’s figures. The ABS figures show that there were 10.768 million employed in August, compared with the 10.868 million last month. Since November of last year, the number of people employed has risen by 70,000, and that is through one negative quarter for growth and two slow quarters (that we know of).

Retail sales are positive, car sales solid (thanks to tax rebates, meaning early 2010 could be weak), building approvals and housing finance also solid (thanks to the new home-buyers’ scheme and the money spent on schools), the trade account is weak, but so is most of the world’s. Business investment was down in the September quarter, but is rising, constriction is still solid and the outlook is for better times as the LNG resources boom starts kicking in in the new year.

In fact, with just three weeks to go, there are three winners for the year.

They are the Rudd government for its heavy stimulus spending at the tight time, the Reserve Bank for getting its monetary policy easings spot at the end of last year and early in 2009, and for its trio of rises from October through December, and the Australian economy and consumers who have proved themselves to be far more flexible and accommodating than any critics had thought.

Australians adjusted quickly on the way down (but not without ripping out $10 billion in cash in the final quarter of 2008 as “insurance”), put it back, responded to the stimulus, lifted their confidence levels, which then spread to business and surfed the emerging upturn to where 2010 looks like being a year to remember.

Victoria saw a sharp drop in its seasonally adjusted unemployment rate last month, to 5.4% from 5.7% the month before. NSW edged down to 6% from 6.1%. But South Australia’s job rate rose to 5.5% from 5.3%, while Queensland topped the nation with its 6.1% jobless rate, up from 6% in October. Western Australia saw its rate rise to 5.2% from 5%. Tasmania’s jobless rate remained at 5.4%.

Peter Fray

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