New Zealand's 13-year high unemployment rate has opened the door for the Reserve Bank to cut interest rates to help underpin growth in an economy recovering from the deepest recession in two decades.
The household labour force survey today showed the unemployment rate unexpectedly rose half a percentage point to 7.3 per cent in the September quarter. Economists surveyed by Reuters were picking the headline rate to ease to 6.7 per cent from 6.8 per cent.
Markets are giving central bank governor Graeme Wheeler a 22 per cent chance of cutting the official cash rate at the December monetary policy statement, according to the Overnight Index Swap curve, up from 12 per cent yesterday. The New Zealand dollar dropped to 81.93 US cents after the employment data, from 82.56 cents immediately before as the prospects for a rate cut grew
"There's definitely a message in the HLFS - the economy is not doing as well as people thought," said Darren Gibbs, chief economist at Deutsche Bank. "Rates are certainly not restrictive and may be stimulatory, but are they stimulatory enough?"
The Reserve Bank has kept the benchmark rate at 2.5 per cent since cutting half a percentage point to shore up confidence after last year's February earthquake in Canterbury levelled much of the country's second-biggest city.
Former governor Alan Bollard had indicated he would lift the rate later that year, but shelved those plans after Europe's sovereign debt crisis intensified, stoking fears of another global financial meltdown.
The HLFS has shown rising unemployment for the past three quarters. The number of people employed fell 0.4 per cent to 2.22 million in the second quarterly decline, while the participation rate was unchanged at 68.4 per cent.
New Zealand's labour market has been struggling to recover from recession, with employers more keen on taking on part-timers and casual staff than hiring permanent full-time workers.
Just today, Dynamic Solutions of Christchurch said it will shed 40-60 jobs as it winds down its contract manufacturing business. That comes two days after Auckland manufacturer Rakon said it would cut up to 60 jobs as it shifts more work overseas.
Auckland's unemployment rate rose 1.3 percentage points to 8.6 per cent, with the number of people employed in New Zealand's biggest city at 691,200, the fewest since June last year.
Nationally, full-time employment shrank 0.8 per cent to 1.7 million while part-timers rose 1.4 per cent to 519,000.
The number of jobless, which includes people who might not be actively seeking work, rose to 294,900 from 271,200, while underemployment, which counts people who are part-time but want to work more hours, rose to 113,300 from 109,500.
Workers in professional, scientific, technical, administrative and support services recorded the biggest decline in jobs, falling to 249,400 from 259,300 in the June quarter, while manufacturing shed 6,100 jobs to 240,400. The number of people working in construction fell to 166,600 from 171,300.
Total hours worked shrank 0.8 per cent to a seasonally adjusted 73.18 million and were down 2 per cent from a year earlier.
Youths aged 15 to 24 not in employment, education or training (NEET), a target demographic for the government, rose to 13.4 per cent from 13.1 per cent in the June quarter.
Canterbury's labour market continued to improve, with the unemployment rate down 5.2 per cent, from 6.5 per cent in the June quarter. Waikato and the Tasman, Nelson, Marlborough, West Coast regions were the only other areas to show a lower jobless rate.
Northland recorded the highest unemployment rate at 10 per cent.
Today's figures come after the quarterly employment survey showed total filled jobs rose 0.3 per cent to a seasonally adjusted 1.715 million, bolstered by a pick-up in part-time workers and a decline in full-time equivalents to 1.35 million.
Gibbs said the difference between the two surveys could be squared up, as the QES doesn't include self-employed people, while the HLFS does. The number of self-employed people dropped 8.1 per cent in the year ended Sept. 30.