At its meeting today, the Board decided to leave the cash rate unchanged at 4.25 per cent.
Recent information is consistent with the expectation that the world economy will grow at a below-trend pace this year, but does not suggest that a deep downturn is occurring. Several countries in Europe will record very weak outcomes, but the US economy is continuing a moderate expansion. Growth in China has moderated, as was intended, and is likely to remain at a more measured and sustainable pace in the future. Conditions around other parts of Asia softened in 2011, partly due to natural disasters, but are not showing signs of further deterioration. Some moderation in inflation has allowed policymakers in the region to ease monetary policies somewhat. Commodity prices declined for a few months last year and are noticeably off their peaks, but have been relatively stable for a while now, at quite high levels. Australiaâ€™s terms of trade have peaked, though they remain high.
Financial market sentiment has generally continued to improve in recent weeks and capital markets are supplying funding to corporations and well-rated banks. At the margin, wholesale funding costs are tending to decline, though they remain higher, relative to benchmark rates, than in mid 2011. But the task of putting European banks and sovereigns onto a sound footing for the longer term remains large and Europe will remain a potential source of adverse shocks for some time yet.
In Australia, growth in domestic demand ran at its fastest for four years in 2011, driven by private spending. Nonetheless the balance of recent information suggests that output growth was somewhat below trend over the year. There are differences in performance between sectors, and considerable structural change is occurring. Labour market conditions softened during 2011, though the rate of unemployment has been little changed for some time.
Interest rates for borrowers remain close to their medium-term average. Credit growth remains modest. Housing prices have shown some signs of stabilising recently, after having declined for most of 2011, but generally the housing market remains soft. The exchange rate has remained high over recent months, even though the terms of trade have declined somewhat.
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