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Slight decline in Australia's jobless rate

AUSTRALIA'S jobless rate slipped marginally in April to 5.4 percent, despite widespread views of a further rise in unemployment because of the global economic slowdown.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data released yesterday showed that more than 27,000 new full and part-time jobs were created in April, backing Australia Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's claim that his massive stimulus packages were protecting workers and the economy from recession.

Some analysts agreed, though even optimists warned the good news would likely be short-lived because the trend was still toward economic contraction and higher unemployment. Others doubted the data's accuracy.

"At face value, we are treating this outcome as a rogue number," said TD Securities senior strategist Annette Beacher.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in April compared with 5.7 percent in March, the country's worst jobless rate in five years.

Economists had expected total job numbers to decline by 25,000 to an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent.

Rudd has pumped more than A$52 billion (US$37 billion) into the economy since October - much of it in the form of cash payments to most Australians - to stimulate the economy, which stalled in the last quarter of 2008. The central bank has also slashed interest rates to their lowest level in almost 50 years to stimulate demand.

The cost of the stimulus payments along with plummeting tax revenue due to the downturn are expected to produce a deficit - Australia's first in eight years - of up to A$70 billion when the government hands down its latest budget next week.

Jobless to rise

The government is forecasting unemployment will rise to 7 percent by mid-2010.

The jobless data is the latest in a series of mixed news that some economists say could add up to a less harsh downturn for Australia than feared.

"It's a pretty consistent story that Australia is actually getting through this in much better shape than most people have given it credit for," said Macquarie Group senior economist Brian Redican, citing other data.

The bureau said on Wednesday that retail sales rose 2.2 percent in March - more than four times what economists expected.


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