SOME PEOPLE SHOULD really avoid the use of the word 'but', particularly the Secretary for Economic Development and Labour, Stephen Ip Shu-kwan, and particularly when talking about jobs. On Monday, he was given another encouraging set of job statistics to announce. Unemployment in October fell to 7.2 per cent, from 7.4 per cent the previous month, and 13,300 jobs were created, making a total of 62,300 new jobs since June alone. At this rate, the figures for November will show record employment levels. Now you may have noticed the 'do you see what I see' television advertisements with which our government is bombarding us to instil some confidence in our future. They lead to an obvious question for Mr Ip. Do you see what I see, sir? Apparently, he does not. His comments on the job figures were loaded with 'buts', all leading to the conclusion that he does not really expect the unemployment rate to continue falling as there are still so many negative 'buts' out there. Yes, there are indeed and that is why the unemployment rate is high. We all know this. As stock market investors say, it's in the price. The crucial 'but' is actually the one that begins the sentence 'but what change at the margin is likely to influence the employment figures in coming months?' Good question and a much harder one to answer than simply reciting the influences that have led them to be what they are now, which is what Mr Ip effectively did. While giving the impression that he was looking forwards, he was actually looking backwards. The answer to the more important question is that employment figures are themselves one of the best leading indicators of the future direction of the economy. If you see what I see, Mr Ip, you would see in those job-creation figures a definite and encouraging sign that things could be changing, something to justify emphasising future recovery rather than past ailments. Mr Ip, however, was not the only commentator to invoke gloom where sunshine has broken through the clouds. Here is the weather forecast from Ian Perkin, the chief economist (do they have more than one?) of the General Chamber of Commerce: 'Maybe we get down to 6.8 per cent and then we sort of plateau, unless you get another economic take-off and you can't see that at the moment.' You certainly cannot see it if you are not looking for it, Mr Perkin. I grant you that the future is always difficult to see, as much for me as it is for you. If I could forecast economic recovery accurately, I would long ago have made my first billion and left a forwarding address to a big yacht off Tahiti. I do look for it, however, and those job-creation figures are a very good starting point for the search. I have similar reservations when Prakash Sakpal, an economist at ING Financial Markets, says the changing nature of Hong Kong's economy means it is 'very hard to expect' unemployment to go back to pre-crisis figures. He thinks it will remain at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) level, which is an average of 6.9 per cent. First of all, this seems to be an unweighted average pushed up by the smaller members of this rich countries' club. In Japan, the figure is 5.1 per cent, in Britain 5.3 per cent and in the United States 5.7 per cent. But why should OECD unemployment rates be a benchmark for us? Hong Kong is not a member and would never have achieved its present wealth if its economy performed as one. Nor is there any reason why structural change should condemn us to high unemployment. It is in fact what is creating our new jobs. Reconsider the hard to expect, Mr Sakpal. I have no better insight than yours but the future always has a way of surprising us.