Economic growth disappoints

Economic growth has slowed to its weakest pace in three-and-a-half years, and if it doesn’t bounce back in the new year a rate cut could be on the cards.

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The economy expanded by just 0.3 per cent in the September quarter, less than half the rate economists expected.

That kept gross domestic product for the year to September steady at 2.7 per cent, official figures show.

The disappointing data pushed the Australian dollar below 84 US cents for the first time in four years and sparked fresh talk of a possible interest rate cut by the Reserve Bank in 2015.

St George economists said while exports rose during the quarter, business investment shrank largely because of a slump in construction in the mining sector.

“The debate about whether the next move will be a rate hike or a rate cut will heat up,” economists Janu Chan and Besa Deda said.

“The patchy nature of the economy means that it is difficult to fully rule out a rate cut, particularly if non-mining activity does not continue to deepen in the economy.”

However, they believe a rate cut is unlikely given the release of other more positive economic data recently.

AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver expects growth to pick up to three per cent in the new year, unless commodity prices continue to fall.

He said the RBA could be forced to cut its cash rate below the current record low of 2.5 per cent if the Australian dollar remains around its current levels.

“If more assistance to the economy is not delivered by a further fall in the value of the Australian dollar in the months ahead there is a now a high chance that the RBA will respond with another rate cut early next year,” he said.

But CommSec chief economist Craig James downplayed the need for a rate cut.

He said economic growth was moving towards the RBA’s expected forecast for the December quarter of 2.5 per cent, so the central bank was unlikely to be tempted to cut rates.

Other economic indicators were encouraging, including stronger business conditions, higher dwelling approvals, and more positive consumer sentiment, he said.

“While some analysts are tipping another rate cut, that could actually be counteractive – creating greater angst about the future amongst consumers and businesses,” he said.