Kiwi consumers are less financially stressed than Australians despite rising interest rates, a survey has found. Credit agency Dun and Bradstreet's NZ consumer financial stress index dropped last month to its lowest level since January 2012, as expanding jobs offset the first rise in official interest rates since 2010.
New Zealand stress levels have been heading down since late 2012, closely tracking the falling unemployment rate.
In contrast, the same index in Australia went up sharply in 2011 when interest rates rose during the mining boom, and has stayed high as many workers lost their jobs when the boom collapsed. Financial stress levels there are now substantially higher than in New Zealand.
The index is based on the demand for, and availability of, consumer credit. The main drivers improving the NZ index are the frequency and quality of credit applications being submitted by consumers; changes in default volumes and bad debt; credit report inquiries; and business health, which flows through to job security and wages.
New Zealand's unemployment rate has been higher than Australia's since June 2009, peaking at 7.2 per cent in mid-2012, but is now coming down as Australian unemployment rises.
"A Reuters poll of 10 economists predicts New Zealand's unemployment rate for the March quarter, due out next week, will drop to 5.8 per cent, matching Australia's March figure.
Beyond that, ASB Bank economist Nick Tuffley said NZ unemployment was forecast to fall to 5.5 per cent by the end of this year and 5 per cent next year, while Australian unemployment was forecast to stay at around 6 per cent.
"Their unemployment is largely going sideways over the next two years, whereas we've still got a bit of a modest decline coming through in ours over time," he said.
"Although because we have a strong lift in immigration, certainly for the rest of this year, that has tempered the pace of decline simply because we have a lot more people available for work."
Mike Huddleston of temping agency Allied Workforce, said he hadn't seen any dampening of demand for labour since the Reserve Bank raised interest rates last month.
"Two things we have seen are heavier demand from employers to take on temporary staff to their permanent workforces, and we're finding it much harder to find new ones. We have more positions than people to fill them - by miles."
But he said jobs were concentrated in Auckland and Christchurch and were still harder to find in the regions.
Consistent work comes right on time
With a baby due in the family next month, Joshua Fuiavailili Neria says finally getting a permanent job couldn't have come at a better time.
Mr Neria, 24, worked in various warehouse jobs at $13.50 an hour for three years, and six months ago found his current job at Husqvarna near Auckland Airport as a temp for Tradeforce Recruitment at $14.50 an hour.
After six months as a temp, he was offered a permanent job when a vacancy opened up last week. His pay rate has jumped to $20 an hour, and his financial stress has been suddenly relieved.
"It's really good news for our family - a permanent job and another baby due. Now with money there, I just thank the Lord," he said.
Although some family have moved to Australia, he is happy here. "I work for my family and my extended family, I don't work for myself."
He said he had been ready to do whatever work Tracdeforce offered.
"It was really hard, there were hardly any jobs, but every day I rang and begged for a job, any job," he said.
"They gave me a couple of jobs, even starting late at midnight or finishing at 3am. I even worked at a rubbish recycling place ... I still worked because I needed the money."
He and his partner already have a 6-year-old daughter, with a second daughter due on June 4. Mr Neria also supports his father, who was paralysed in a gang attack eight years ago, and sends money home to other relatives in Samoa.
He has also done a second job at McDonald's on Friday nights and Saturdays since he came back from two years in Samoa in 2010. His only day off is Sunday, when he goes to church.