Jobs, interest rates, dollar: pressure all round

Is it becoming easier to find workers for vacant positions? The answer is both yes and no, according to contradictory figures released in the past couple of days.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released today show the number job vacancies increased 2.4% in August to 171,400, a slight rise on the 2.3% in job vacancies in May.

Going the other way, however, are Department of Employment and Workplace Relations figures for September that show vacancies for skilled jobs declined 1.7%, with the market for accountants and auditors dropping the fastest at 6.6%.

The lesson? It’s hard to know for sure, but one possibility is that we are seeing a softening in the white-collar jobs market, while those portions of the economy exposed to resources and construction, which are less represented in the DEWR data, are continuing to experience tight employment conditions.

And speaking of pressure, the likelihood that the Reserve Bank of Australia will have to increase interest rates sometime this year appears to be rising, despite the ongoing international credit crisis.

The Australian Financial Review reports that markets have now priced in a 53% chance that the RBA will lift interest rates by the end of this year.

It is all a bit contingent – September quarter CPI figures to be released on October 24 and further signs of serious fall out from the US sub-prime catastrophe will be the key factors – but recent statement by senior RBA figures about the strength of the Australian economy suggest there may be something to the speculation.

Apart from the usual consequences for Australian business of an interest rate rise, a further hike this year could have dramatic consequences for our exporters.

The reason? Markets in the US have priced in a 70% chance of a further deep cut in US interest rates to 4.25% by the end of the year. Rising interest rates here combined with falling rates would be likely to put a rocket under the Australian dollar – making recent predictions of the Australian dollar hitting US92¢ by the end of the year seem that much more plausible.

At 12.50pm today the Australian dollar is trading at US87.56¢, up on yesterday’s US87.23¢ close. At the same time the S&P/ASX 200 is up 0.8% on yesterday’s close to 6533.6.


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