By Paul McBeth
New Zealand unemployment unexpectedly fell to near a seven-year low in the final three months of 2015 as people left a labour market flooded by strong migration and employers took on more workers.
The kiwi dollar initially jumped almost half a US cent when the figure was released this morning.
The unemployment rate fell to 5.3 percent in the December quarter from 6 percent three months earlier, according to Statistics New Zealand's household labour force survey.
That's the lowest level since March 2009, and came in below economists' predictions for an unemployment rate of 6.1 percent.
Employment grew 0.9 percent, slightly ahead of estimates, while the participation rate fell to 68.4 percent from 68.7 percent.
"Although the number of employed people has risen, there was also growth in the number of people not participating in the labour market," Diane Ramsay, labour market and households statistics manager, said in a statement.
Record inflows of migrants have kept the labour force expanding over the past year, helping limit wage growth in a benign inflation environment, even as employers complain about the difficulty of finding staff.
The working age population expanded 0.5 percent in the quarter to 3.66 million, for a 2.3 percent annual increase. At the same time, employment grew 1.3 percent in calendar 2015 to 2.37 million, while unemployment shrank 6.7 percent to 133,000.
The number of jobless people, which includes unemployed people of working age not seeking a job, rose 0.7 percent to 259,000 in the year.
The quarterly employment survey also showed private sector weekly earnings for full-timers rose 0.6 percent to $1035, an annual increase of 3.4 percent and more than the 0.1 percent pace of consumer price inflation over the same period. Across all sectors, weekly earnings rose 1 percent in the quarter for an annual rise of 3 percent.