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Australia's central bank flags lower rates in jobs hunt

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Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Governor Philip Lowe said it was "unrealistic" to think that a single quarter-point cut in rates would be enough on its own to speed up economic growth. The RBA cut rates to a record low of 1.25 per cent earlier this month.

[ADELAIDE] Australia's top central banker on Thursday said it was not "unrealistic" to expect a further reduction in interest rates given ample slack in the labour market, and called on the government for action on fiscal stimulus.

Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Governor Philip Lowe said it was "unrealistic" to think that a single quarter-point cut in rates would be enough on its own to speed up economic growth. The RBA cut rates to a record low of 1.25 per cent earlier this month.

"Given this, the possibility of lower interest rates remains on the table," Mr Lowe told an economics conference in Adelaide.

"It is not unrealistic to expect a further reduction in the cash rate as the Board seeks to wind back spare capacity in the economy and deliver inflation outcomes in line with the medium-term target."

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The RBA is hardly alone in easing, with both the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank this week reversing course and opening the door to new stimulus.

Futures markets imply around a 58 per cent chance of an RBA rate cut at its next meeting on July 2, while a move to 1 per cent by August is considered a dead certainty. A further move to 0.75 per cent is tipped by year-end.

Mr Lowe was blunt in his assessment of the need for stimulus.

"The most recent data – including the GDP and labour market data – do not suggest we are making any inroads into the economy's spare capacity," he said.

Annual growth in the economy slowed to a decade low of 1.8 per cent in the March quarter while the jobless rate has ticked up to 5.2 per cent in recent months. Inflation and wages growth have also been more subdued than the bank previously expected.

Mr Lowe said a more flexible labour market meant the economy could sustain a jobless rate down around 4.5 per cent.

"Most indicators suggest that there is still a fair degree of spare capacity in the economy," he said. "It is both possible and desirable to reduce that spare capacity."

With this in mind, Mr Lowe said it was important to recognise that monetary policy alone could not do all the work and called for more action on the fiscal front, including spending on infrastructure.

Structural policies that support firms expanding, investing, innovating and employing people would also be welcome.

So far, the newly re-elected coalition government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison has played down the need for fiscal stimulus and remains committed to returning the budget to surplus in 2019/20. 

REUTERS