Real wage growth back for first time since 2010

Peter Spence
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(Source: Getty)

Real wage growth is back, but it's weaker than we'd expected.

Last month we saw some convincing signs of its return in the Office for National Statistics' volatile single month figures.

This morning's Office for National Statistcs data confirms that early indicator, with average earnings up by 1.7 per cent in the three months to March on the same period last year.

Consumer price inflation stood at a four-and-a-half year low of 1.6 per cent in the year to March. Today marks the first time we've seen total earnings growth above consumer price inflation since early 2010.

However, that earnings growth was much weaker than analysts were anticipating. Consensus estimates suggested we'd see total earnings up by 2.1 per cent, rather than the 1.7 per cent we got.

Bonuses will have been a little lower in March 2013, partly as a result of tax changes. As a result, HSBC analysts suggest annual growth in total pay should begin to "pick up more sharply" in future months.

But when bonuses are excluded average earnings are up just 1.3 per cent in the three months to March against the same period last year. This is still lower than headline inflation and less than the 1.4 per cent increase reported last month.

Surveys of hiring intentions have remained strong in the first quarter of 2014 and today's data also sees unemployment at 6.8 per cent in the three months to March. The jobless rate was last that low at the start of 2009.

In a preview of today's labour market release, IHS Global Insight's Howard Archer said that he suspects unemployment will continue to fall at a "steady but slightly slower rate over the coming months."

Further falls in unemployment may be tempered by improving productivity, says Archer, as many companies will be able to make greater use of the workers they already have.

The Bank of England's most recent regional agents summary saw employment intentions over the next six months pointing to "further modest headcount growth, albeit at a rate below that of output growth, as contacts sought productivity gains to help meet rising demand."

IHS Global Insight expects the unemployment rate to fall to 6.5 per cent by the end of 2014 and to 6.2 per cent by the end of 2015.