There wasn’t much in the way of clarity from the April jobs data this morning, but that at least means there wasn’t much bad news.

First, some history: the March jobs report, which originally saw a stronger-than-expected labour market, has been revised up to 48,100 new jobs, from 37,000. In April, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 6.2% as the number of new jobs fell unexpectedly — but not by much, and not even close to the big March increase. So, the unemployment rate now hasn’t really moved now for eight or nine months. In trend terms (designed to remove the month-to-month volatility), the jobless rate dipped to 6.1% from 6.2%, but that fall was less than one percentage point. The seasonally adjusted labour force participation rate fell a tad but remains at 64.8%. Participation lifted 0.1 point in NSW, where unemployment edged up to 6%; it fell 0.2 points in Victoria where unemployment was flat at 6.2%; in Queensland participation and unemployment both rose 0.1 point for an unemployment rate of 6.7%. The South Australian numbers, ever volatile, lurched back up to 7.1%; Tasmania’s also jumped to 7.3%, both on participation-rate rises; WA unemployment is back up to 5.7%.

Overall, the ABS said the number of people employed fell by just 2,900 people to 11.724 million, seasonally adjusted, with the fall coming in full-time employment. The fall in “employment was driven by decreases in full-time employment for males (down 47,900) and part-time employment for females (down 10,700). These were offset by increases in male part-time employment (up 29,700) and female full-time employment (up 26,000),” according to the ABS. Better, hours worked in the month rose strongly — 1.1% in April, or 17.8 million hours to 1.7 billion hours, which at first glance is at odds with the fall in employment, but there was good growth in part-time employment to account for that. The rise in part-time work could either be a sign of rising confidence among employers who add people on a part-time basis to see how demand goes, or it could be a sign of underlying weakness as employers shift people from full-time to part-time work as demand weakens. The steady participation rate and hours worked suggest the former, for now.

The jobs data follows very solid building approvals for March and the year to March where they are up 23.6% over the past year. Retail sales growth slowed in March, seasonally adjusted, to 0.3% from 0.7% the month before. But sales growth and volumes rose during the quarter and are set to provide a small boost to first-quarter GDP. Sales of new homes hit a 13-month high in April, car sales slowed from March’s record pace in April, but were still above those for April 2014.

Peter Fray

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