Slap Bang numbers

Three months ago, as I was walking into Statistics New Zealand, I ran into a bloke from Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce’s office.

What do you think today’s figure will be like, I asked him. None of the economists were forecasting any major change – they all had it sticking at around 6.5-6.8% of the workforce, where it had been for some time.

Certainly none of them expected it to go above 7%.

He grimaced.

“I don’t know about this one – we’ve got a feeling it might not be that good,” he said. This was interesting, as my own gut feeling was similar – in fact at that stage I was starting to wonder if the economy might have even gone backwards in the third quarter of last year.

None of us, though, thought it was going to be 7.3% of the workforce.

In the event, I didn’t write much about unemployment that day: running out of the Statistics NZ lock up to get a Vodafone mobile connection I stumbled into the sliding doors and wound up headbutting the gravel with extreme prejudice. Ended up in hospital with wires attached to me.

The consensus market forecast for today is I’ll stay upright, and there’s a lot less margin for upside/downside surprises on this forecast than there are to most economic outlooks right now.

Today’s figure could go either way, I think: for NBR Online subscribers, I’ve done a preview here.

The impression I get is the economy picked up again in the last six to eight weeks of the year, and when you look at the other economic data the 7.3% figure seems an outlier: the surprise is not that it rose, but that it rose by quite that much.

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