‘Unstoppable’ labour market adds jobs for 12th month, drops jobless rate to 5.9%

OTTAWA — A wave of job creation last month knocked the unemployment rate down to 5.9 per cent — its lowest level in nearly a decade.

The economy churned out another 79,500 net new jobs in November and drove the jobless rate down 0.4 percentage points from 6.3 per cent the month before, Statistics Canada said Friday in its latest labour force survey.

The federal statistical agency also released fresh figures for growth — they showed that the economy expanded at an annual pace of 1.7 per cent in the third quarter.

But the strong November jobs numbers, marking Canada’s 12th straight month of positive job creation, stood out.

One expert described the labour market as pretty much “unstoppable.”

“Just on its face, it’s a very large number — and following 11 months of gains it’s kind of running out of superlatives to describe it,” said TD senior economist James Marple.

“It’s hard to argue the Canadian economy is not operating at full employment.”

The last time the unemployment rate was 5.9 per cent was February 2008 at the start of the global financial crisis. Marple noted that over the last 40 years the jobless rate was only lower than 5.9 per cent for one month, in December 2007.

Analysts expect the labour market’s surprising surge, which blew past economists’ expectations, to catch the Bank of Canada’s attention ahead of next week’s scheduled interest-rate announcement.

Many, however, still expect governor Stephen Poloz to hold off before introducing another hike, although they say it’s getting harder for him to do so.

Part of the reason Poloz may have to act sooner is linked to another positive piece of economic data in Friday’s report: rising wage growth.

Compared with the year before, average hourly wages for permanent employees grew 2.7 per cent for the biggest increase since April 2016.

“If that trend holds up it will be hard for the Bank of Canada to remain on the sidelines much longer,” RBC economist Josh Nye wrote in a research note to clients.

“Today’s blockbuster employment report raises the risk of an earlier move.”

The November numbers show Canada gained 29,600 full-time jobs and 49,900 part-time positions in November. The growth was concentrated in the private sector, which added 72,400 jobs last month, compared with an increase of 10,600 positions in the public sector.

The report also found a gain of 83,000 employee jobs, compared with a drop in 3,500 self-employed positions, which is a category that includes people who work in a family business without pay.

Factory jobs rose 37,400 last month, while the services sector added 42,100 positions.

By region, Canada’s three biggest provinces saw the largest gains.

Ontario gained 43,500 jobs, up 0.6 per cent compared to the month before. British Columbia added 18,200 jobs for a 0.7 per cent increase and Quebec created 16,200 positions for a 0.4 per cent increase.

Looking at the bigger picture, employment rose 2.1 per cent across the country in the 12 months leading up to November as the economy added 390,000 net jobs. The gains were driven by full-time work, the report said.

The labour market added 441,400 full-time positions year-over-year for an increase of three per cent and its strongest 12-month period of full-time job creation in 18 years.

Statistics Canada also released its latest quarterly data Friday for economic growth, which came in largely in line with expectations.

The economy expanded at an annualized rate of 1.7 per cent in the third quarter of 2017 as weaker exports applied downward pressure on growth. The increase in real gross domestic product was driven by a four per cent expansion, at an annual rate, in household spending.

Exports, however, fell on a year-over-year basis of 10.2 per cent, which included a decline in goods exports that followed three quarters of growth.

Investment in residential structures fell for a second-straight quarter — the first time since early 2013 that the category saw a decrease in two straight quarters. The data found the compensation of employees increased 1.3 per cent in nominal terms for its strongest quarterly growth in three years.

Statistics Canada also made a downward revision to Canada’s real GDP number for the second quarter — dropping it down to an annualized pace of 4.3 per cent compared with its initial reading of 4.5 per cent.

The third-quarter number was a little weaker than the Bank of Canada’s October forecast, which predicted real GDP to ring in at 1.8 per cent. The bank is projecting real GDP to expand by 2.5 per cent in the fourth quarter.

The latest real GDP figure follows four-consecutive quarters of stronger growth — 4.3 per cent, 2.2 per cent, 3.7 per cent and 4.3 per cent.

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