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Australian unemployment jumps to 5.4%

SYDNEY -- Australia's unemployment rate rose to an near two-and-a-half-year high of 5.4 percent in September, data showed Thursday, but analysts said it was not as bad as the numbers suggested.

The bigger-than-expected figure is well up from August's 5.1 percent, the Bureau of Statistics said, and is the highest since April 2010, but was largely down to more people looking for work.

The number of those in full-time work increased 32,100 to 8.107 million, although that was offset by a 17,700 decline in part-time jobs to 3.404 million.

Overall about 14,500 jobs were created, with analysts saying the jump in the unemployment rate was because of a 0.2 percentage point rise to 65.2 percent in the proportion of working-age Australians in or looking for a job.

The result saw the Australian dollar climb more than a quarter of a U.S. cent to US$1.0257, while the share market pared most of its earlier losses to close just 0.16 percent weaker.

The jobs figures come after the Reserve Bank of Australia last week cut interest rates to 3.25 percent, reacting to declines in commodity prices and slowing growth.

Rates are now at their lowest level since the global financial crisis, with the bank warning that the growth outlook for next year had weakened.

Some economists said the rise in unemployment would not increase the prospect of further interest rate cuts.

“In its latest statement, the bank points to the need for other sectors to take up the slack in the labour market that the curtailment of the mining boom brings about,” said CMC chief market strategist Michael McCarthy.

“So overall, this is a minor positive for Australia, and that means that interest rates are less likely to fall, and that's supporting the Aussie dollar.”

CommSec chief economist Craig James said the data gave a mixed reading, but indicated that the labour market was not as weak as some had expected.

“It's a very mixed picture — there are some sectors which are still crying out for staff, in hospitality, resources and healthcare. But there are other sectors where they're looking to shed jobs,” he said.

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