Employment confidence lifts in 1st-qtr, current job opportunities seen less negative

Dominick Stephens, Westpac Banking Corp chief economist

New Zealand employment confidence rose in the first quarter and households became less negative about job opportunities, suggesting the labour market is starting to reflect a general upturn in the economy.

The Westpac McDermott Miller Employment Confidence Index rose to 109.4 in the first three months of 2014, from103.4 in the final quarter of 2013.

The index is now at its highest level since the global financial crisis and ensuing recession although it is still weaker than before the recession hit, according to Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens. While households' perceptions of current job opportunities improved to the best reading since December 2008, it is still deeply negative at a net -32 percent from -46.9 percent.

Expectations for job opportunities a year ahead were unchanged at -3.4percent, while own job security improved to 16.8 percent, the highest since September 2009, from 10 percent.

"The fruits of New Zealand's economic upturn are increasingly becoming apparent to workers and jobseekers," Stephens said. "Nevertheless, conditions are still markedly weaker than they were before the recession hit, and workers and job seekers remain understandably cautious about the pace of improvement."

The survey comes after government figures last month showed New Zealand's unemployment rate fell to a three-year low 6 percent in the fourth quarter while employment rose a faster-than-expected 1.1 percent. Jobs rose in construction, manufacturing, retailing, accommodation, hospitality, agriculture, fishing and forestry, the data showed.

The employment confidence survey showed those reporting higher earnings over the past 12 months rose 1.6 points to 29.6 percent while those seeing earnings growth in the year ahead gained 1.9 points to 31.1 percent.

The Waikato showed the biggest gain in employment confidence, rising 18.9 points to 115.2, the highest of any region. Confidence rose 9.8 points to 113.1 points in Auckland and slipped 1 point to 114 in Canterbury. Taranaki/Manawatu fell 2.1 points to 97.8 and Bay of Plenty dropped 14.7 points to 96.1, the only two regions to register below 100 in the latest survey.


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