Australian central bank cuts rates to record low of 3pc

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Australia's central bank on Tuesday cut the official interest rate to a record low of 3pc, a level not seen since the financial crisis as China's slowdown squeezes the mining industy.

Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens said ongoing troubles in Europe (Chicago Options: ^REURUSD - news) and the United States were overshadowing global growth prospects, with risks seen to the downside and local spending "relatively subdued" as a result.

"The board judged at today's meeting that a further easing in the stance of monetary policy was appropriate now," said Mr Stevens following the bank's monthly rates meeting.

"This will help to foster sustainable growth in demand and inflation outcomes consistent with the target over time."

He said Chinese growth looked to have stabilised but Asia was lagging as a result of its slowdown, with prices for Australia's key commodities "significantly lower", reducing the value of its exports by about 15 per cent.

Recent data confirmed that the "peak in investment is approaching" for the key mining sector, bringing "new scope" for other areas of the economy to grow.

But Mr Stevens said consumer spending was unlikely to return to the boom times seen some years ago, and analysts warned that further stimulus would be needed to smooth the transition from a mining-dominated economy.

"Even lower rates will be needed to boost the non-mining sectors of the economy as the mining boom fades at a time when the Australian dollar remains strong and fiscal cutbacks are intensifying," said AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver.

Tuesday's cut brings rates to their equal lowest point since the bank began independently setting interest rates and targeting inflation in the early 1990s.

Rates were last this low in September 2009, at the bottom of a savage 425-basis-point series of reductions over seven months to cope with the global downturn, which Australia narrowly escaped without going into recession.

At that time Treasurer Wayne Swan described rates as being at "50-year emergency lows".

He sought to play down as a "scare campaign" Tuesday suggestions that the economy was again in strife, emphasising the bank's assessment that Australia was growing at trend pace and that global conditions were far less dire.

"Let's go back to the global financial crisis - the global economy fell off a cliff, global growth was -0.6 percent back then. Global growth (Chicago Options: ^RGGTRUSD - news) is just below trend right now," Mr Swan told reporters.

He conceded that he "wouldn't be surprised if we saw a slight moderation in growth" in the third quarter of 2012 when official gross domestic product data is published on Wednesday.

"But when you've got low unemployment, when you've got contained inflation, when you've got a strong investment pipeline and when you've got strong public finances the glass is more than half full."

Mr Stevens said the "available information suggests that the near-term outlook for non-residential building investment, and investment generally outside the resources sector, remains relatively subdued."

The labour market was softening and unemployment was "edging higher", he said, noting that the Australian dollar still remains "higher than might have been expected" in the circumstances and was squeezing non-mining industries.