The Australian labour market finished 2015 showing more signs of strong growth, according to this morning’s employment report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The outcome on both the preferred trend basis and the seasonally adjusted figures was much stronger than expected, and the unemployment rate is now firmly under 6% — and looking to go lower.

On a trend basis, the ABS said a total of 321,000 more people were employed in December than in the same month of 2014. That was up from the 293,000 figure reported in November, and the 260,500 for October, meaning the December quarter experienced very strong growth (on a trend basis) of nearly 52,000, which will be a positive for the GDP figures in early March.

That was growth a year ago most analysts, economists and others ruled out (in fact forecasts for the jobless rate to climb to 6.5% and perhaps 7% were frequently made) and the Reserve Bank hurriedly cut rates in February, and then a second time in May to try and cushion what it saw as a weakness in demand and jobs growth as the investment boom collapsed and the economy struggled to manage the transition away from that. Those rate cuts worked a treat and the labour market has been growing with its ears pinned back — in fact the ABS says the growth started a year ago, in December 2014.

On a trend basis, the unemployment rate dipped to 5.8%, from 6.2% at the end of 2014, and from 5.9% in November 2015. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the unemployment rate fell to 5.8% last month from an upwardly revised 5.9% (from 5.8%) in November, with fewer jobs lost than economists were expecting. Seasonally adjusted, 1000 jobs were lost in December (all part-time work, but full-time work rose by 17,600 jobs).

But that wasn’t the big news from the seasonally adjusted side of the report: the 71,400 new jobs reported originally for November, and doubted by a string of commentators, was revised higher to 74,900. So long as there is no revision, that figure will remain one of the strongest monthly increases in new jobs for years.

December’s jobs performance was stronger when reported on a trend basis. The Bureau of Statistics said, trend employment increased by 27,500 persons to 11,893,800 persons last month. The bureau said this “translates into a monthly growth rate of 0.23 per cent. This growth rate was above the monthly average over the past 20 years (0.15 per cent), and continues the trend in relatively strong employment growth that has been seen since December 2014.”

The seasonally adjusted monthly hours worked in all jobs series was relatively unchanged at 1645.2 million hours, and the participation rate in December was 65.1%, compared to 65.3% in November. On a trend basis, the participation rate rose to 65.2%.

Peter Fray

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