Construction boosts employment
April 14, 2011 – The economy continued to pick-up over the winter, with real GDP in January
matching its 0.5 per cent gain in December. Labour demand accelerated in the
first quarter, after a slowdown in the second half of 2010.
Exports led the growth of demand, with a large gain in energy exports in
December followed by a surge in auto exports in January. These increases reflected
improved demand in the US, the expansion of pipeline capacity to the US and
the end of supply disruptions that hampered auto exports late in 2010.
The U.S. economy in February also improved, after a series of storms helped
dampen activity in December and January. Retail sales posted their largest
monthly gain since October. Manufacturing output was buoyed by higher auto
assemblies, as inventories were replenished after a drop in the fourth quarter.
While the housing market remained weak, the U.S. labour market strengthened,
with private sector payrolls up over 200,000 in both February and
Employment in Canada was unchanged in March, capping a 0.6 per cent increase
in the first quarter. While employment was flat in March, there was a sharp
shift from part-time to full-time positions, which boosted hours worked by 0.5 per cent.
With a small dip in the labour force, the unemployment rate edged down from 7.8 per cent
to 7.7 per cent.
Goods-producing industries increased employment by 0.5 per cent, mostly in
construction. This was offset by a 0.2 per cent drop for services, especially
in finance and the public sector. There was little change in employment and
unemployment in most regions.
The composite leading index rose 0.8 per cent in February, double its gain
in each of the previous three months and its largest advance since May 2010.
The increase was broadly based, with nine of the 10 components posting gains,
compared with six increases the month before. A turnaround in manufacturing
contributed to the overall increase in the index.
In manufacturing, new orders for durable goods rebounded 0.3 per cent, after
three straight declines. Some of this upturn reflects the marked improvement
in exports in December and January. The ratio of shipments to inventories
posted its first gain in five months. Manufacturers appeared optimistic that
the improvement in demand was sustainable, as they extended the length of
the workweek and substantially boosted employment levels over the winter.
The stock market continued to lead all components with a 2.7 per cent increase
in February. The housing index was close behind with a 1.8 per cent advance,
mostly due to higher existing home sales. The improvement in housing was reflected
in furniture and appliance sales, up 0.9 per cent for their first gain in eight
months. Spending on other durable goods rose 0.6 per cent.