* February jobs rise by roughly 89K VS +30K consensus
* Unemployment slips to 5.8% VS 6.3% consensus
* All of job gains in Feb led by full-time work
* Labour market expected to tighten further – economist (Adds economist comment in paragraphs 9-10, PM quotes in paragraphs 14-16)
SYDNEY, March 18 (Reuters) – Australian employment surpassed all expectations to jump for a fifth consecutive month in February while the jobless rate fell much more rapidly than expected, in yet another sign the country’s economy was moving in the right direction.
The strong data challenges the Reserve Bank of Australia’s lower-for-longer monetary policy pledge, triggering a jump in the local dollar.
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on Thursday showed employment rose a net 88,700 in February, on top of a roughly 29,000 gain in January. Analysts had forecast a 30,000 increase.
The jobless rate dropped to 5.8%, from 6.4%, far better than market forecasts of 6.3% and down from a peak of 7.5% in July.
The stellar figures sent the Australian dollar to a two-week high of $0.7835. Three-year bond futures fell 5 ticks to 99.690, implying a yield of 0.3%.
The monthly labour force series has become extremely important for traders as the country’s central bank has pledged to keep rates at a record low of 0.1% until the labour market is tight enough to generate inflation.
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) does not expect that to occur before 2024 at the earliest, one reason it re-committed to keeping the three-year yield curve control target at 0.1% this month.
“The RBA will have its work cut out to keep sounding dovish if it is faced with more data like this,” said Robert Carnell, regional head of Asia-Pacific research for ING.
“Their defence will be ‘there is still a long way to go’. Maybe. But at this sort of pace, it won’t take until 2024 to get there.”
Thursday’s startling figures showed employment has now risen above 13 million people, 4,000 people higher than in March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses to pull down shutters.
All of the gains in February were driven by full-time employment with women accounting for more than three-quarters of the increase, the data showed.
Hours worked increased across all of the states and territories, except for Western Australia, which went into a short coronavirus lockdown in the first week of February.
The data comes as the government plans to end its temporary wage subsidy scheme this month.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the numbers were a “shot in the arm,” shrugging off suggestions the fiscal tapering would hurt the labour market.
“We go in with a very strong jobs run-up into the next phase of Australia’s comeback and Australia’s recovery,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
“Our plan is working.” (Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Sam Holmes)