At its meeting today, the Board decided to lower the cash rate by 25 basis points to 3.50 per cent, effective 6 June 2012.
Growth in the world economy picked up in the early months of 2012, having slowed in the second half of 2011. But more recent indicators suggest further weakening in Europe and some further moderation in growth in China. Conditions in other parts of Asia have largely recovered from the effects of last year's natural disasters, but the ongoing trend is unclear and could be dampened by slower Chinese growth. The United States continues to grow at a moderate pace. Commodity prices have declined lately, though they are mostly still high. Australia's terms of trade similarly peaked about six months ago, though they remain historically high.
Financial market sentiment has deteriorated over the past month. The Board has noted previously that Europe would remain a potential source of adverse shocks. Europe's economic and financial prospects have again been clouded by weakening growth, heightened political uncertainty and concerns about fiscal sustainability and the strength of some banks. Capital markets remain open to corporations and well-rated banks, but spreads have increased. Long-term interest rates faced by highly rated sovereigns, including Australia, have fallen to exceptionally low levels. Share markets have declined.
In Australia, available indicators suggest modest growth continued in the first part of 2012, with significant variation across sectors. Overall labour market conditions firmed a little, notwithstanding job shedding in some industries, and the rate of unemployment remains low. Nonetheless, both households and businesses continue to exhibit a degree of precautionary behaviour, which may continue in the near term.
There have been no new data for inflation since the previous meeting. Over the coming one to two years, and abstracting from the effects of the carbon price, inflation is expected to be in the 2–3 per cent range. In the near term, it is likely to be in the lower part of that range, though maintaining low inflation over the longer term will require growth in domestic costs to slow as the effects of the earlier high exchange rate wane.
As a result of earlier changes to monetary policy, interest rates for borrowers have declined to be a little below their medium-term averages. Business credit has increased more strongly in recent months, though credit growth remains modest overall. Housing prices had shown some signs of stabilising around the turn of the year, but have recently declined again. Generally, the housing market remains subdued. The exchange rate has declined over recent weeks, reflecting lower commodity prices, heightened risk aversion and expectations of lower interest rates.
At today's meeting, the Board judged that, with modest domestic growth and a weaker and more uncertain international environment, the outlook for inflation afforded scope for a more accommodative stance of monetary policy.