Friday, April 13, 2012

Jobs. Bad for Victoria, better elsewhere

VICTORIA'S economic slump has touched a new low, with seasonally adjusted unemployment rising to 5.8 per cent, its highest level for two-and-a-half years, despite a rebound in jobs.
With the state's industries punished by the high dollar, the Bureau of Statistics estimates that in seasonally adjusted terms, Victoria has lost 50,000 full-time jobs in the past year.

Unemployment soared from 4.4 per cent in March, 2011 to 5.8 per cent now. Victoria now has the highest unemployment rate on the mainland; a year ago it was the second lowest behind Western Australia. The high dollar is stripping back its manufacturing, tourism, export and education sectors, while high interest rates have subdued housing activity and consumer spending.

But the pain could get worse, after an unexpectedly large rebound in employment nationally. The Australian dollar soared almost a cent after yesterday's figures came out, as financial markets abandoned their earlier certainty about another interest rate cut.

The seasonally adjusted figures nationally showed a spectacular zag after last month's zig, adding 44,000 jobs. It was the fourth month in a row that the figures have followed a zigzag pattern: falling, rebounding.

But the rebounds have been bigger than the falls, and in March, seasonally adjusted employment climbed to a new record of just under 11.5 million people in work. Unemployment remained at 5.2 per cent.

State Treasurer Kim Wells said the rise in unemployment was "disappointing", but pointed out that seasonally adjusted jobs in Victoria grew by 11,000 in March, wiping out the fall in February. He said the rise in unemployment in Victoria would not deter the government from delivering a surplus of at least $100 million.

"We are committed to our fiscal targets and our economic objects," Mr Wells said.

He also confirmed the government will announce new infrastructure spending in the budget. He gave no details, but said a freeway linking the western suburbs with EastLink was the government's top priority.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews called on Premier Ted Baillieu to develop a plan to keep people in work. "These are not numbers," Mr Andrews said. "These are families. These are workers who have lost their jobs."

Australian Industry Group Victorian director Tim Piper suggested the state government consider abandoning its pledge to deliver a budget surplus of at least $100 million.

Mr Piper said unemployment in NSW is now 4.8 per cent, a full percentage point lower than in Victoria. "Something needs to be done to stimulate investment in the community, create confidence and to make companies feel like they can be generating some new business," he said.

The data excited the markets. The dollar soared 0.85? in five hours, to $US1.0391 at the close of local trading. The S&P/ASX200 index rose 34 points.

But the zigzag pattern of recent months also means there is no certainty that the rise in March will be sustained. The Bureau of Statistics' preferred trend measure, which smooths out the zigs and zags, shows the nation added just 25,000 jobs in the past six months.

Western Australia added 42,300 jobs in the year to March, Victoria lost 28,200.