Australian economy grows at slowest pace since 2009

Household spending has plunged as consumers brace themselves for more weakness in the economy.

    Australia's central bank says it may cut interest rates again after lowering them to an all-time low on Tuesday in response to the economic slowdown [EPA]
    Australia's central bank says it may cut interest rates again after lowering them to an all-time low on Tuesday in response to the economic slowdown [EPA]

    Growth in Australia's economy picked up only modestly in the last quarter but the annual pace braked to the slowest in a decade, cementing the case for further easing in monetary policy and more stimulus from the government.

    The gross domestic product (GDP) figures out on Wednesday showed the $1.9 trillion Australian dollar ($1.3 trillion) economy expanded 0.4 percent in the three months that ended in March, from 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter and missing expectations for a 0.5 percent increase.

    Government spending and exports were the main contributors to growth in the first quarter of this year, while household spending further slumped to contribute just 0.1 percent to the country's GDP.

    Annual GDP rose by a below-trend 1.8 percent, the weakest since the global financial crisis as sluggish wages and falling home prices crimp consumer spending.

    Wednesday's data means growth will have to pick up remarkably in the current quarter to achieve the Reserve Bank of Australia's (RBA) downgraded forecast of 1.7 percent for the past 12-months to June 30.

    "If you look at components of growth, they are pretty consistent with what the partial data were telling us. It highlights very weak domestic demand in the quarter," said RBC economist Su-Lin Ong.

    "The economy continues to grow at below trend pace and this weakness is likely to persist this year. This makes the RBA's forecast look optimistic."

    Record rates cut

    Worried about a slowing economy, rising unemployment and lukewarm inflation the country's central bank on Tuesday cut rates to an all-time low of 1.25 percent on Tuesday, marking its first easing in nearly three years.

    Rates futures imply a 50-50 chance of another cut to 1.00 percent next month. A majority of 44 economists polled by Reuters predict a second cut in August with some also expecting a third move.

    In a speech late on Tuesday, RBA Governor Philip Lowe said it was "not unreasonable" to expect a lower cash rate from here, signalling the door was wide open for further easing.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency