Australian jobs up again in Jan, longest run of gains on record

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By Wayne Cole and Swati Pandey

SYDNEY, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Australia"s streak of employment gains reached the longest on record in January, while unemployment fell a tick and female participation in the workforce climbed to an all-time high.

Thursday"s figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed 16,000 net new jobs were added in January, in line with forecasts and a solid result given it came on top of outsized increases in both December and November.

The unemployment rate edged down to 5.5 percent, from an upwardly revised 5.6 percent in December, and has held between 5.4 percent and 5.6 percent for nine months now.

One soft spot was a 49,800 drop in full-time jobs, though that followed an incredibly strong run over the past year.

"Overall, the job market is clearly in great shape. Jobs are being created, more people are looking for work and businesses are still keen to hire," said Craig James, Sydney-based chief economist at CommSec.

"The Reserve Bank believes "full employment" is near 5 per cent. So there is still ample spare capacity," he added.

The participation rate remained elevated at 65.6 percent, having climbed steadily over the past year as more women went looking for work.

With labour supply expanding to meet demand, there was less upward pressure on wages and inflation, thus no near-term trigger for a rise in interest rates by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).


Just last week, the central bank"s head declared there was no strong case for a rate rise given wage growth continued to lag far behind job creation.

"We agree with the Reserve Bank that increases in the pace of wage and price growth will be gradual. Interest rate settings are solidly on hold. Today"s data cements that view," James said.

That outlook was reflected in the local dollar, which dipped briefly to $0.7918 on the data. It was last up 0.1 percent at $0.7929.

Interest rate futures showed little change in the odds of a rate rise, with a move by November seen as a 50-50 shot. A hike is still not fully priced in until March 2019.

Leading indicators of labour demand remain healthy enough, with business surveys and vacancies consistent with monthly jobs growth of 15,000 to 20,000.

Yet firms remains reluctant to pay more, in part because many say they cannot raise prices in the face of intense competition, particularly from new foreign entrants.

As a result, recent wage deals across sectors, known as enterprise agreements, paid smaller increases than the ones they replaced, an unwelcome trend highlighted by RBA Assistant Governor Luci Ellis this week.

"These agreements usually last for a couple of years, so this will weigh on overall wage outcomes for a while," noted Ellis. "There will probably be some lag between the reports of labour shortages and a generalised pick-up in wage growth."

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