Dec 5, 2012

Australia - China slowdown squeezes Australian growth

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SYDNEY: Slowing momentum in China curbed Australia's economic growth to 0.5 per cent in the three months to September and 3.1 per cent from a year earlier, data showed Wednesday.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) said gross domestic product grew a seasonally adjusted 0.5 per cent in the quarter, in line with expectations, driven by the mining and manufacturing sectors.

That compared with growth of 0.6 per cent in the three months to June and year-on-year growth of 3.7 per cent last quarter, lending weight to the central bank's decision to cut interest rates on Tuesday to stimulate the economy.

Treasurer Wayne Swan hailed the "solid" data, saying it was more evidence of "the ongoing resilience of the Australian economy in the face of a difficult and volatile global environment".

Mining contributed 0.4 per cent to quarterly GDP growth, despite a plunge in commodity prices due to cooling in China's economy that saw a 4.0 drop in Australia's terms of trade -- the value of its exports against its imports.

Spot prices for iron ore and coal waned by 10-20 per cent in US dollar terms in the quarter, with the terms of trade sagging 13.7 per cent in the year to September.

The ABS said the value of the mining sector expanded 4.5 per cent in the quarter, driven by new oil and gas production coming online. Most other sectors were sluggish.

The Reserve Bank of Australia slashed the official interest rate by 25 basis points to 3.0 per cent this week -- their equal lowest since RBA independence in the early 1990s and a level not seen since the height of the 2007 global crisis.

RBA governor Glenn Stevens said mining investment would soon reach its peak, and other areas of the economy would need to pick up the slack as Australia looks to transition away from a resources-dominated economy.

Analysts have warned that further rate cuts may be needed as the government seeks to rein in spending to meet a targeted budget surplus in 2013, with the non-mining economy already looking anaemic.

"This is a fairly sluggish rate of growth, even with mining investment adding to growth, and before the major fiscal cutbacks begin to come through," said Macquarie economist Brian Redican.

Swan remained upbeat, saying Australia was growing faster than other advanced economies and the expansion was "reasonably broad-based" despite a strong Aussie dollar hurting some industries and consumer confidence remaining muted.

He conceded that the commodities slowdown had "weighed on some investment decisions", with a number of major miners shelving or delaying projects amid warnings from the central bank and others that the price boom had peaked.

But Swan said resources firms were still committed to spend a record A$268 billion (US$280 billion) on projects in coming years, with A$109 billion in capital expenditure slated in the year to June 30, 2013, a 33 per cent increase on-year.

Though commodity prices and the value of Australia's exports were expected to "decline gradually over the medium term", Swan said they remained "elevated by historical standards" and demand from Asia was expected to stay strong.

- AFP/ck

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