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Economy in Brief

Unemployment Rates Down in Hong Kong & Sweden
by Carol Stone November 18, 2004

Hesitant improvement are evident in labor market conditions reported today by two widely disparate areas, Hong Kong and Sweden. Both have undergone economic "adjustments" over the last couple years, but it now looks that both are starting to turn around.

This is clearer in Hong Kong, where employment growth in the three months ended in October is a notable 2.8% above year-earlier levels. Month-to-month moves, even in this moving average series, are fairly irregular, but the longer trend looks favorable, especially after two years of contraction in 2002 and 2003. The unemployment rate is falling too, reaching 6.7% in the October period, down from a peak of 8.6% in mid-2003 and the lowest since early 2002.

In Sweden, the employment figures are not so buoyant, still on the downside compared with a year ago, but the decline now seems to be occurring more gradually. More hopeful is a reduction in the unemployment rate, which fell below 5% for the first time in 14 months and well off its high of 6.0% in February and much higher levels in prior years.

For both regions, the price of energy remains a wildcard as a potential block to further progress. As in the US, fuel prices for both transportation and heating have climbed sharply. Thus it remains to be seen if these recently better labor force developments will continue or be constrained by ballooning energy budgets.

Labor Force Data Oct 2004 Sept 2004 Aug 2004 Year Ago 2003 2002 2001
Hong Kong Employment
  (3-mo Avg, Mil., SA)
3.30 3.28 3.30 3.21 3.22 3.23 3.25
  % Chg 0.5 -0.4 0.1 2.8 -0.4 -0.6 1.4
Unemployment Rate 6.7 6.8 6.8 8.0 8.0 7.3 5.1
Underemployment Rate              
Sweden Employment
  (Mil., NSA)
4.20 4.20 4.27 4.22 4.23 4.24 4.24
  % Chg       -0.6 -0.2 0.1 2.0
Unemployment Rate 4.9 5.8 5.5 5.1 4.9 4.0 4.0
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