Jobs growth has slowed in 2018, leaving the unemployment rate steady at 5.5 per cent for a third straight month.
The total number of people with jobs rose by 4,900 in March, seasonally adjusted figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show, well below market expectations of a gain of 20,000.
The number of people with jobs has risen by 36,000 so far this year, following a gain of over 400,000 in 2017.
The unemployment rate has not moved because the participation rate – a measure of the number of people working or looking for work – has risen.
ANZ Senior Economist Felicity Emmett said it was inevitable that there would be a period of softness in the labour market after 2017’s stellar performance.
“The slowdown in employment growth comes on the back of a very strong run through 2017 and with labour market leading indicators remaining positive there are still reasons to be optimistic about the outlook for employment and unemployment this year,” she said.
“Buoyant business conditions and ongoing strength in job vacancies suggest that employment will continue to expand and the unemployment rate should trend lower in coming months.”
Commonwealth Bank senior economist John Peters also said business surveys and job ad numbers point to further employment growth in the coming months, but wages growth could remain very weak.
“The levels of underemployment and underutilisation, whilst easing, are still way above levels that would signpost some acceleration in broad based wages growth,” he said.
With the unemployment rate steady, RBC rates strategist Robert Thompson said the Reserve Bank’s forecast of a rate of 5.25 per cent by mid-2018 could be missed, reinforcing forecasts of no move in interest rates for some time.
“We have long held the view the RBA will stay pat through 2018, and this gives further ammunition to that view,” he said.
Full-time positions fell by 19,900 in March, and part-time positions rose by 28,800.
The participation rate – the number of people working or looking for work – rose to 65.6 per cent in March, from 65.5 per cent in February, and compares to 65.7 per cent in January.
The Australian dollar dropped almost one third of a US cent to 77.64 US cents shortly after the release of the jobs figures, but soon recovered and was trading at 78.05 US cents at 1500 AEST.