Employment confidence at best since global crisis

Employment confidence has lifted to its highest level since the recession and global financial crisis of 2008-09.

The Westpac McDermott Miller employment confidence index rose five points to 108.4 in the March quarter.

Otago has posted a seven-point increase in confidence from 96.2 in the December quarter to 103.2.

Westpac senior economist Michael Gordon said there had been a particularly strong rise in perceptions of current job opportunities, which chimed with other indications that firms were ''back in hiring mode''.

There was also a gradual boost in the number of workers reporting a rise in earnings.

That was yet to show up in a meaningful way in the official measures of wage growth, but that divergence could only last for so long, Mr Gordon said.

''Evidence of a wage-price spiral, or lack of one, will be an important indicator of how far the Reserve Bank will need to go in its just-launched campaign to keep inflation in check,'' he said.

The latest survey also demonstrated how the upturn had become more broad-based over the past year or so.

In the March 2013 survey, Auckland and Canterbury were the only regions reporting net optimism.

Today, most regions have been reporting stronger labour market conditions, and even with the impetus of the postearthquake Christchurch rebuild, the Canterbury region no longer came across as an outlier.

While the labour market was joining in the economy's general upturn after a substantial delay, conditions remained markedly weaker than they were before the recession.

Job seekers remained understandably cautious about the pace of improvement.

Meanwhile, ANZ's Business Outlook showed general business confidence fell to 67.3 in March, having reached a 20-year high of 70.8 in February.

There were still elevated levels of confidence and there remained ''much to smile about'' for businesses, ANZ chief economist Cameron Bagrie said.

''Commodity prices are strong, construction activity is moving up, there are more people on the ground courtesy of booming net immigration, and the economy has that feel-good factor all round,'' Mr Bagrie said.

With the economy now firmly into an economic expansion and interest rates on the ascent, the challenge was to settle into a ''glide-path''.

''We're after an enduring economic expansion as opposed to being left gasping by a flash-in-the-pan growth spurt,'' he said.

An uplift in productivity growth was needed to build the economy's ''muscle'' and alleviate capacity constraints.

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