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By Vittorio Hernandez | March 7, 2012 6:44 PM PST

Australia's unemployment rate returned to 5.2 per cent in February, the Australian Statistics Bureau (ABS) reported on Thursday. The rise was expected by analysts as banks, manufacturing companies, construction firms and other Australian companies announced axing of jobs by the hundreds last month.

The country's joblessness rate was 5.2 per cent in December 2011, but slightly declined to 5.1 on the first month of 2011. The return to 5.2 per cent was inevitable as Aussie firms shed jobs due to the high Australian currency, low global prices of some commodities and weak consumer confidence.

The ABS said 15,400 jobs were lost in February, while full time employment was at 8.064 million and part time employment declined to 3.38 million. The lost jobs were all part time work while no full time jobs were added.

Dr Shane Oliver, AMP chief economist, said the January figure which showed a surprise surge in employment seemed "too good to be true" and the February data corrected it.

Michael Blythe, chief economist at Commonwealth Bank, said the data indicated that Australian employers are more cautious and on a hiring freeze. Although there are no wholesale layoffs that would drastically push unemployment rate up, joblessness is "essentially tracking sideways."

Su-lin Ong, senior economist at RBC Capital Markets, noted that the country's unemployment rate has been between 5 and 5.2 per cent for the past six to eight months, but forecast it would likely rise in the coming months.

She said the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) would likely wait for the joblessness rate to rise between 5.25 and 5.5 per cent before it cuts the overnight cash rate again. The RBA retained on Tuesday the key lending rate to 4.25 per cent.

On Wednesday, RBA Deputy Governor Philip Lowe said a persistent rise in unemployment would provide the Australian central bank with enough scope to ease policy.

Despite the increase, Australia's economy apparently is in a better shape than other western nations. Unemployment in the U.S. is at 8.3 per cent, in the U.K. at 8.4 per cent and 10.7 per cent in the eurozone.

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