Australian economy contracts

Negative growth for first time in eight years as economy teeters on brink of recession.

    The Reserve Bank of Australia is keeping interest rates unchanged despite the slowdown [AFP]

    For the year, the economy expanded 0.3 per cent, the ABS reported.

    However, economists have said the slip into negative figures in the final three months of the year showed that Australia is at risk of going into a full-blown recession.

    Following the announcement, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 share index dropped 1.9 per cent with the Australian dollar also falling more than half a US cent to 63.28 US cents.

    The growth figures come a day after the Reserve Bank of Australia kept interest rates unchanged, saying in a statement that the Australian economy was weak but "has not experienced the sort of large contraction seen elsewhere".

    Resources boom slows

    According to government figures, the deteriorating global financial conditions means the Australian government budget could fall into deficit of $14.4bn in 2008/09, or 1.9 per cent of GDP, and $22bn in deficit, or 2.9 per cent of GDP, the following year.

    Australia has recently enjoyed a resources boom from exports of commodities like iron and copper ore to rapidly growing Asian economies such as China and India.

    But the global financial crisis has caused demand to slide, and in December Australia saw its trade surplus shrink by 40 per cent

    Economists are expecting to see a return to trade deficits as bulk commodity prices fall.

    Australian officials meanwhile have said they expect unemployment to hit seven per cent by mid-2010, up from 5.75 per cent previously forecast in November.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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