Jobs market muscle put to test with fresh data due

Whether or not strength in the labour market has staying power will be the key economic question under review this week.

The release of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ March labour force data on Thursday will be watched carefully after a robust reading in the month before, though the strong result was at least partly attributed to changing summer job-starting patterns.

The state of the labour market has implications for the high interest rates that are hurting consumers, with the Reserve Bank expecting gradual softening as its hiking cycle works to slow the economy and weigh on inflation.

While the central bank is trying to keep as many of the gains in the labour market as possible as it battles inflation, strong hiring could point to resilience in the economy and lingering price pressures. 

In February, the jobless rate sunk 0.4 per cent percentage points to 3.7 per cent and employment rose 116,000, which was a better result than expected. 

Yet there was some bounce-back expected after a couple of softer numbers in January and December, with the bureau suggesting changing summer labour market behaviours were injecting some volatility into the dataset.

CommSec economists Craig James and Ryan Felsman said the impressive numbers in February were likely to moderate in March. 

They said averaging the November-March results should give the best view of the data and indicates a jobless rate nearing 3.8 per cent.

While weaker than in February, Mr Felsman and Mr James said the unemployment rate would still be hovering around 40-year lows. 

The statistics bureau will also release overseas arrivals and departures data this week, on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Westpac's leading index - a collection of indicators that signal future economic performance - is due for the month of March. 

US stocks sold off after major banks' results failed to impress, capping a week marked by market-moving inflation data, evolving expectations for US Federal Reserve policy and looming geopolitical tensions.

The S&P 500 lost 75.46 points, or 1.45 per cent, to end at 5,123.60 points, while the Nasdaq Composite lost 266.50 points, or 1.62 per cent, to 16,175.09 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 478.29 points, or 1.24 per cent, to 37,980.79.

Australian futures fell 50 points to 7772.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index on Friday fell 25.5 points, or 0.33 per cent, to 7,788.1, while the broader All Ordinaries dropped 23.9 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 8,050.2.

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