Were the employment numbers bad?

I’m pretty sure that this graph provides the answer:

I’ll talk about this a little more later tonight – all in all the size of the fall in employment will have surprised everyone.

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  • My take on this is that the NZD has been due for a fairly big sell-off and this provided something of an excuse. An expectation for a weaker currency has been around for some time but just when has been eluding many in the market. The RBNZ has been keen not to spook the markets into thinking that they will be cutting soon as the resultant fall in the NZD will only exacerbate current imported inflation at a time when the economy is sofening.

    Arguably, they need to bite the bullet as the economy will likely remain soft for close to 12 months and managing expectations into a gradual decline in the NZD over that time is a Herculean task. Get it over and done with – yes the markets will drop the NZD a lot more and that will boost import costs but do it right and the market will stabilise. If the RBNZ keeps its cards too close to the chest then rapid swings in the currency are the likely result (IMHO).

  • There’s been a fair bit of speculation as to whether this gives RBNZ room for an interest rate cut.

    My worry is the following. Most of the drop in employment is from reduced female labour force participation. If that’s because of Working for Families massively increasing the effective marginal tax rate for second earners in middle income families, then the employment drop reflects a real decrease in labour supply. Consequently, wage pressures might wind up increasing rather than decreasing. RBNZ needs to do some careful modeling of WFF before taking this as justification for lower rates.

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  • Hi Eric,

    Its conceivable that some of the drop may be the result of WFF, given that the March quarter is usually the quarter where people re-evaluate there work goals for the coming year, and as a result any decrease in female labour force participation as the result of policy could be expected to fall in March.

    However, the HLFS is a notoriously noisy data series. Although the release does indicate that there was a significant fall in participation (especially given that the number of people being laid off has not increased), it could well be unwound in the next quarter.

    If we see this behaviour continuing in June, and if benefit claims remain low and the QSBO continues to indicate labour shortages then the participation argument will be significantly stronger.

  • Agree completely, Matt. One quarter’s results here certainly don’t make the case for or against changing interest rates, and likely aren’t enough to point directly to WFF. It’ll take a few more quarters’ data ’till this can be resolved.

    One does wonder, though, why we have the highest number of babies born since 1972 or so…

    Was just putting in a caution against the headline newspaper read of the survey as giving slack to RBNZ: even if the numbers are clear (which they aren’t in a noisy series), the cause is ambiguous.

  • “Was just putting in a caution against the headline newspaper read of the survey as giving slack to RBNZ: even if the numbers are clear (which they aren’t in a noisy series), the cause is ambiguous.”

    Fully agreed, thanks for doing so – it meant that I had someone to quote when I mentioned the idea in later posts 🙂

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