THE BIG PICTURE: Inside the census treasure trove

The latest census data is a treasure trove of very useful statistics for Australian businesses, government departments and investors. The important point being that the results emanate from a population census, not just a monthly survey. So in terms of the accuracy of the figures, they are hard to beat.

One issue that is always debated in Australia is the accuracy of the monthly job figures. Well, the census deals with this question once and for all – or at least for the next few years until the current census data become a distant memory. The data shows that the unemployment rate stood at 5.6% on census night (August 9, 2011), just above the survey estimate at that time of 5.3%. So it is clear that the job market is indeed in solid shape.

Other points of interest in the latest tranche of census data include new estimates on employment by industry, internal migration and transport used by people to get to work.

The latest data confirms that health care is the biggest employer by a large margin with 1.17 million employed in the sector. And while the number of people employed in the mining sector has doubled in the past decade, the sector accounts for just 1.8% of all jobs.

And data shows that 1.2 million foreigners have called Australia home over the past five years with almost 350,000 settling in NSW. The census data can even show what suburbs the migrants have settled in, highlighting the easily-tapped power of the census database.

The week ahead

There is a packed schedule of financial events in Australia over the coming week including a Reserve Bank Board meeting, release of retail spending figures and the issuance of the quarterly Statement on Monetary Policy publication from the Reserve Bank.

In contrast it is quieter in the US, although the presidential election is clearly the focal point. And the latest “download” of Chinese economic data is scheduled for Friday.

In Australia the week kicks off on Monday with no fewer than five indicators to be released. Retail sales data for September is released together with the TD Securities-Melbourne Institute inflation gauge, the Performance of Services index, job advertisements data and the trade balance for September.

After the data barrage, the Reserve Bank Board will clearly have all the information it needs to make the interest rate decision. We expect retail trade lifted by 0.6% in September while the trade deficit probably narrowed from $2 billion to $1.5 billion. The other readings should be more subdued, confirming that the interest rate decision is a 50/50 call.

The Reserve Bank Board makes the rates decision on Tuesday – Melbourne Cup day. On balance we see little risk in the Reserve Bank cutting rates a final time, trimming the cash rate by 25 basis points (quarter of a per cent) to 3.00%. It is by no means a clear-cut decision, but the relatively high Aussie dollar, global risks and conservatism of consumers and businesses argue the case for lower rates.

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