Unemployment has surprisingly fallen from 6.1 per cent to 5.8 per cent, as an estimated 18,100 jobs were added last month.
The move caught most economists off guard, as the average prediction was for unemployment to be at 6.1 per cent in March.
In further good news, the amount of hours Australians work also rose by 0.5 per cent last month to 1.62 billion.
That has caused the Australian dollar to jump through 94 US cents on expectations that interest rate rises might soon be on the agenda – it was fetching 94.35 US cents at 11:35am (AEST).
However, the figures were not as good as they looked at first glance, with all the jobs added being part-time – estimated at 40,200 – while an estimated 22,100 full-time jobs were lost.
The proportion of people in work or looking for it – the participation rate – also fell from 64.9 to 64.7 per cent in another sign of continued labour market weakness.
The more stable trend unemployment rate, smoothing out the monthly volatility, also continued to grind slightly higher to 6 per cent.
CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian has gone out on a limb and is among the first economists to say that unemployment may have reached its zenith at 6.1 per cent in February.
He points out that, if the estimates were accurate, 88,000 jobs have been created since the start of the year.
“The job market is showing signs of stabilising with unemployment having peaked or pretty close to it,” Mr Sebastian wrote in his note on the data.
“The labour market is the lagging indicator in the economy and it is now showing signs of reflecting the recent solid lift in economic activity.”
ANZ conducts the most widely-watched survey of job advertisements, which are seen as an advance indicator of the employment trends.
The bank’s head of Australian economics, Justin Fabo, says the latest ABS figures are starting to reflect an improvement in job ads seen over recent months.
“For now, the labour market is improving more quickly than the RBA has forecast. The improvement in a range of forward-looking labour demand indicators suggests that employment growth will remain solid in coming months,” he observed.
“The key uncertainty is by how much the strengthening in jobs growth will be held back by job shedding as mining projects wind up.”
It is also important to note that the Bureau of Statistic’s employment figures are estimates – indeed February’s unemployment rate was revised up from 6 to 6.1 per cent in these latest data.
The ABS says there is a 95 per cent chance that the change in employment during March was between 75,500 jobs added and 39,300 jobs lost, and the unemployment rate was between 5.5 and 6.3 per cent.