Fifth quarter of pessimism outweighing optimism

Employment confidence remained flat and ''gloomy'' for the quarter to December, the fifth consecutive quarter of pessimism outweighing optimism.

The Westpac McDermott Miller employment confidence survey saw the index rise by a ''whisker'' of just 0.2 points to 99.1, from the previous quarter, below 100 indicating pessimists outnumbered optimists, Westpac senior economist Felix Delbruck said. Employment confidence remained ''at very low levels'', and households' assessment of their personal job security had taken a step back, Mr Delbruck said in a statement.

Within the five component series of the index, households' assessment of current and future job opportunities ''improved slightly'', but remained ''very downbeat'': a net 60% of households said jobs were hard to get and a net 6% said they expected them to get worse this year.

He noted Canterbury continued to be ''the one bright spot in what was overall still a fairly gloomy report''.

''Canterbury is now the only region where employment confidence is clearly in optimistic territory,'' Mr Delbruck said.

The accelerating post-quake rebuilding was clearly boosting Cantabrians' assessment of job opportunities and their own job security. But their earnings expectations had stayed fairly steady, suggesting wage pressures remained low outside particular industries.

Households' earning expectations had risen for two quarters, but were still well below levels seen before the 2008-09 recession, he said.

The balance of households reporting actual and expected increases in their labour earnings also improved slightly, with a net 24% saying earnings had increased during the past year (up from 22%), and a net 34% expected them to rise over the year ahead, up from 32%.simon.hartley@odt.co.nz

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