Rates down Down Under

Australia was one of the few economies that seemed to be somewhat insulated from the 2008/09 recession and credit crunch. However, with the UK now back in recession and global economic conditions worsening in much of Europe, Australia has now joined the list of countries that are experiencing economic conditions that are ‘weaker than forecast’.

Today’s world involves economies that are increasingly interdependent, hence the spread of the world economic slowdown. As such, with weak global demand, Australia has started to feel the effects, with demand for its goods and raw materials falling. This has led Australia’s central bank – the Reserve Bank of Australia – to cut its key interest rate (the ‘cash rate’) by more than expected. The rate had been at 4.25% and it was widely believed that a 0.25 percentage point cut would occur. However, the central bank cut the cash rate rate to 3.75% to counter the weakening conditions. The Reserve Bank said:

“This decision is based on information received over the past few months that suggests that economic conditions have been somewhat weaker than expected, while inflation has moderated …Growth in the world economy slowed in the second half of 2011, and is likely to continue at a below-trend pace this year.”

Banks’ interest rates have been falling in Australia for the past few months and this latest cut will do much to help financially squeezed households. Data show that Australian house sales have fallen, as have house prices, and retail sales have fared little better.

Lower interest rates are often a tool used to steer inflation and the Australian central bank may not have been as willing to cut rates had the inflation rate not come down in recent months. Keeping consumer prices under control remains a top priority for the central bank and so it will be interesting to see the impact that these rate cuts will have on the Australian economy.


Australia cenbank surprises with aggressive half point rate cut Reuters, Wayne Cole (1/5/12)
Australia cuts rates by than forecast to 3.75% BBC News (1/5/12)
Banks unlikely to pass on full rate cut The Australian, Wall Street Journal, Peter Trute (1/5/12)
Australia cuts rate to support economy Financial Times, Neil Hume (1/5/12)
Australia slashes interest rates by 0.5pc to boost economy The Telegraph (1/5/12)
Australia cuts interest rates as economy slows Guardian, Phillip Inman (1/5/12)
Banks must pass on rate cut: businesses Sydney Morning Herald, Ehssan Veiszadeh (1/5/12)
Bond prices rally after rate cut Sydney Morning Herald (1/5/12)
Surplus remains appropriate: Swan Sydney Morning Herald, Colin Brinsden (1/5/12)


Reserve Bank of Australia Cuts Rates by 50 Basis Points to 3.75% CNBC video, Lauren Rosborough (1/5/12)
Further `Modest’ RBA Easing Possible, ANZ Says Bloomberg, Tony Morriss (1/5/12)
Australia’s central bank shifts focus to growth BBC News, Duncan Kennedy (1/5/12)


  1. Which factors will a central bank consider when setting interest rates?
  2. Explain the components of aggregate demand that will be affected by a lower rate of interest.
  3. Using diagrams to illustrate the process, explain both the interest-rate and the exchange-rate transmission mechanisms of the fall in interest rates.
  4. How are interest rates used to target inflation?
  5. How will lower rates of interest help the Australian economy recover from weakening global economic conditions?
  6. Why are Australia’s banks unlikely to pass on the full rate cut to consumers?
  7. Why did bond prices rise and the Australian dollar depreciate after the rate cut? Why does this suggest that a 0.5% cut was greater than anticpated by markets?