By ROD McGUIRK
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) â¿¿ Australia's central bank cut its benchmark interest rate to a record low 2.5 percent Tuesday because of slower growth and weakening commodity prices.
The Reserve Bank of Australia's quarter percentage point rate cut at a monthly board meeting comes in the first week of a federal election campaign and was expected by economists.
The bank last cut the Official Cash Rate, which is a benchmark for commercial lending rates, by a quarter point in May, following four cuts in 2012.Australia has enjoyed a decade-long boom in mining and related construction that helped it avoid recession during the global financial crisis. Growth, however, is now slowing as China's economy cools and drags down prices for commodities such as iron ore and coal. The government last week nearly doubled its budget deficit forecast for the fiscal year through June 2014 to 30.1 billion Australian dollars ($26.8 billion) as slowing growth weighs on tax revenues. In a statement, the central bank's governor Glenn Stevens said growth was below the long-term trend level of 3 percent as the economy adjusts to lower levels of mining investment, but there was a "reasonable prospect" of it picking up in 2014. Stevens said the Australian dollar was still quite high despite a fall of 15 percent since April. The currency was little changed at just below $0.90 immediately after the rate announcement. "It is possible that the exchange rate will depreciate further over time, which would help to foster a rebalancing of growth in the economy," he said. "Commodity prices have declined but, overall, remain at high levels by historical standards." The government last week downgraded its economic growth forecast for the current fiscal year from 2.75 percent to 2.5 percent and raised its unemployment forecast for the year from 5.75 percent to 6.25 percent.