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Data points: B.C. hiring lags population growth and retail spending surprises

Slower economic conditions heading into the first quarter of 2024 are likely to curb hiring momentum
Slower economic conditions heading into the first quarter of 2024 are likely to curb hiring momentum, writes Bryan Yu

B.C.’s labour market caught an updraft to end the year after little change in both October and November.

Total employment rose by 17,700 people (0.6 per cent). This outperformed a flat national performance. On a year-over-year basis, provincial employment growth accelerated to 2.7 per cent. That said, B.C.’s unemployment rate rose from 5.3 per cent to 5.6 per cent as hiring fell behind population-driven growth in the labour force.

Full-time employment in the province rose by one per cent (23,100 people) in December, offsetting a decline in part-time employment, which was down 0.9 per cent (5,300 people). The Vancouver census metropolitan area recorded a 0.6-per-cent increase in employment from the prior month, while the unemployment rate went up to 6.2 per cent.

By sector, B.C.’s goods-producing industries saw employment fall 2.1 per cent following growth in November, with the highest proportional sub-sector losses observed in utilities (down 21.7 per cent) and agriculture (down 11.1 per cent).

The remaining goods-producing sectors – except the natural resources industry – also posted employment declines, including manufacturing (down 2.8 per cent or 5,100 people).

Total employment in the services industries increased by 1.2 per cent, with a notable increase in information, culture and recreation employment (up 10.1 per cent or 13,200 people). In contrast, a large decline was reported in business, building and other support services (down 9.9 per cent or 8,700 people).

Despite December improvement, economic traction and slower economic conditions heading into the first quarter of 2024 are likely to curb hiring momentum.

Retail spending surprised on the upside despite strengthening headwinds from high interest rates and slowing economic growth. Consistent with national gains, B.C. retail spending rose in October with a 0.5-per-cent lift as sales hit $9.1 billion during the month. Year-to-date sales were also up 0.7 per cent. The data is unadjusted for seasonality at the store level, but year-over-year figures show a boost, primarily from a 7.6-per-cent increase in sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers (although not as much as the 11.4-per-cent gain reported in September). Food and beverage retailers’ sales also pulled back during the month, down by 4.9 per cent.

Clothing and related items sales rose 6.9 per cent in October, while general merchandise retailers’ sales posted a 6.3-per-cent increase. On the other hand, sales of building material, garden equipment and supplies dealers declined by 5.4 per cent, likely in response to the weakening housing market in the province. Additionally, sales at gasoline stations and fuel vendors declined 6.2 per cent. Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, book and miscellaneous retailers’ sales followed suit with a 14.5-per-cent decline as consumers restricted unnecessary spending.

Adjusted for seasonal factors, Vancouver metro area retail sales increased 0.7 per cent on a monthly basis. Year-to-date sales also showed an increase of 0.5 per cent in the area.

Bryan Yu is chief economist at  Central 1.