B.C. employment rises for first time since May

There was good news for B.C.’s labour market in October.

Estimated employment in the Labour Force Survey climbed for the first time since May, jumping 0.6% or 15,300 persons to near 2.57 million. This regained about two months of losses and points to stabilization after a recent dip. Full-time employment, particularly among people 55 and over, gathered momentum.

While headline numbers were strong, net employment growth owed mostly to Metro Vancouver, where gains reached 28,000 persons or 1.9%. On aggregate, employment fell in the rest of the province.

Provincially, services employment was up a robust 0.8% from the prior month, and 3.5% year-over-year. Gains were specifically stronger in finance/insurance/real estate (up 1.4% from September and 7% from a year ago) and public administration (up 6% from September and 19.5% year-over-year). Service-sector employment growth has spanned across most sectors over the past year.

In contrast, weakness was observed in the goods-producing sector, which posted a 0.7% monthly decline and a 4.3% dip from a year ago. Natural resource sector employment has taken a hit over the past year, in part due to the forestry downturn.

While year-over-year employment growth in October at 2% was middling compared with other provinces, year-to-date growth has led the country with a 3% gain. B.C.’s unemployment rate was also lowest among provinces at 4.7%, compared with 5.5% nationally. This has contributed to accelerating wage growth, with average hourly wages up 5.8% year-over-year, compared with 4.3% nationally. Inability to find workers, and resistance to higher wages from some employers, may be constraining hiring.

Housing sales rose in October, fuelled by low mortgage rates, lower prices and pent-up demand. The federal First-Time Home Buyer Incentive may also be providing some lift for lower-priced units in the market. Multiple Listing Service sales in the Lower Mainland reached nearly 4,400 units during the month, marking a 42% increase from a year ago. Seasonally adjusted sales are at their highest level since early 2018, although still below pre-stress-test levels.

Market conditions have firmed considerably. Resale inventory is falling, reflecting increased sales volume and a declining new listings environment. The ratio of sales to inventory has risen to 24%, which is a level typically associated with a seller’s market and rising price environment.  Current trends point to a clear recovery in housing-market conditions, and a nascent recovery in home values. Positive market trends look to continue as mortgage rates are expected to ease through early 2020. •

Bryan Yu is deputy chief economist at Central 1 Credit Union.