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NZ wage inflation slows in 1Q

Tuesday 1st May 2012

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New Zealand wage inflation slowed in the first three months of the year, leaving overall labour costs benign enough to let the central bank keep interest rates on hold for longer.

The labour cost index rose 0.4 percent in the three months ended March 31, according to Statistics New Zealand. That's just short of the 0.5 percent forecast in a Reuters survey of economists.

Private sector wage costs grew 0.5 percent, according to Statistics New Zealand. Private sector staff in the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors reported the fastest wage growth at 0.8 percent.

The tepid pace of wage inflation will let Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard continue to hold off raising the official cash rate as he contends with a strong currency damping imported inflation and volatile overseas markets raising the threat of volatility.

Last week, Bollard kept the benchmark interest rate at a record-low 2.5 percent, and issued another warning about the strength of the kiwi dollar.

Total private sector average hourly earnings jumped 1.3 percent to $24.90 with a 2.1 percent gain in overtime, according to the Quarterly Employment Survey, released at the same time. Reuters economists were picking a quarterly gain of just 0.5 percent.

Total public sector hour rates jumped 2.8 percent to $34.82, and the overall hourly rate rose 1.4 percent to $26.96.

Today's figures come before Thursday's household labour force survey, which is expected to show the unemployment rate stayed at 6.3 percent, and the participation rate crept up 0.1 percentage points to 68.3 percent.

The QES figures show total filled jobs dropped 1.2 percent to 1.69 million in the quarter, though were flat on a seasonally adjusted basis. Full-time equivalent positions fell 0.6 percent to 1.33 million in the quarter. FTEs were up 0.1 percent when seasonally adjusted.

The bulk of the quarterly decline came in education and training, which shed 22,100 FTEs, or 18 percent, to 104,300 in the period, though the quarter captures the school holidays and the annual decline 3.6 percent was smaller than normal.

Electricity, gas, water and waste services added 5.5 percent, or 600, FTEs in the quarter to 11,600, while manufacturing FTEs grew 4.8 percent, or 8,000, to 175,200. Construction FTEs grew at a quarterly pace of 0.9 percent to 91,500.

Total weekly paid hours shrank an actual 0.6 percent to 51 million in the quarter, short of the 0.4 percent growth picked by economists. Paid hours fell 0.5 percent when seasonally adjusted. That's the first quarterly decline since December 2010.

BusinessDesk.co.nz



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