Australia adds most jobs in almost 13 years, eases pressure on central bank

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian monthly jobs growth hit a near 13-year high in February, an "extraordinary" result that helped keep the unemployment rate steady and eased pressure on the central bank to cut rates.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said 71,500 jobs were created last month, smashing forecasts for a rise of 10,000 and the biggest jump since July 2000.

UBS economist George Tharenou said: "It is clearly a strong result and shows that employment growth is tracking much faster than some people had been expecting."

The bureau said the rate of unemployment stood at 5.4 per cent, unchanged from January due to more people re-entering the workforce, and better than predictions for a rise to 5.5 per cent.

Thursday's figures come just nine days after the Reserve Bank of Australia kept interest rates at historic lows of 3.0 per cent, saying previous cuts were beginning to take effect.

Macquarie Bank senior economist Brian Redican said the numbers were "extraordinary" and added: "With that kind of employment growth there is no rationale for cutting rates."

However, shares in Sydney plunged 1.18 per cent to close at 5,032.2 as dealers bet the central bank would not cut rates further at its next policy meeting.

"Such strong unemployment data reduces the chances of seeing the RBA pull the trigger on rates anytime soon," IG Markets analyst Stan Shamu said.

"This in turn weighs on some interest-rate-sensitive and exchange-rate-sensitive stocks." The big rise included 17,800 full-time posts and 53,700 part-time positions, helping to offset an increase in the participation rate - the proportion of people in work or looking for work - to 65.3 per cent from 65 per cent.

Economists said it appeared that headline-grabbing job cuts at a number of high profile companies did not reflect the hiring at small-to-medium sized firms.