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THE market odds have moved firmly against an interest rate rise by the Reserve Bank in February.

The sharp change in direction, which began on Tuesday after the central bank revealed its December 1 meeting minutes, accelerated yesterday following a speech by RBA deputy governor Ric Battellino.

Mr Battellino signalled that rates could stay on hold when the RBA next meets in February, saying the “overall stance” of monetary policy was “back in the normal range”.

His comments, at the Australian Finance & Banking Conference in Sydney, surprised the markets, triggering a slump in the Australian dollar to below US90.

Last night the dollar was hovering around US89.70.

Financial market betting on a 25-basis point rate hike in February retreated from a 67 per cent chance to 45 per cent.

Mr Battellino said that although the cash rate still seemed “unusually low” at 3.75 per cent, monetary policy was back “in the normal range” because the current level of deposit, housing and business lending rates made the cash rate equivalent to a “before the crisis” level of 4.75 per cent.

“Taking these considerations into account, it would be reasonable to conclude that the overall stance of monetary policy is now back in the normal range, though in the expansionary segment of that range,” he said.

The deputy governor’s remarks were made half an hour after the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed economic growth in the September quarter was weaker than expected.

The national accounts showed GDP edged up just 0.2 per cent in the three months to September, half the pace of growth expected by the market, for an annual rate of 0.5 per cent.

The main drag on growth was a slump in exports which coincided with a jump in imports.

However, demand from households, businesses buying more equipment and government investment was solid.

ANZ acting chief economist Warren Hogan said the GDP figures indicated there was little urgency to get official interest rates back to a neutral setting, adding that Mr Battellino’s comments had “dealt a solid blow” to the prospect of substantial gains in the cash rate over coming months.

“Put another way, the emergency setting for interest rates has now been removed and policy will be adjusted as and when required by economic conditions,” he said.

Westpac chief executive Gail Kelly told reporters after the bank’s annual meeting in Melbourne yesterday that the RBA was likely to raise rates “very carefully” in 2010.

However, she said the official cash rate was not quite yet at a “normal” level.

Mrs Kelly said she remained cautious about the economic outlook while the bank’s chairman Ted Evans said a “V-shaped” recovery for Australia was unlikely.

“It will be a long recovery and that’s what our plans are based on,” he said. 

Source  :  www.news.com.au

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Sprinklers will be permanently switched off during winter from next year after the State Government today to retain this year’s trial sprinkler ban.

Yesterday’s decision follows a two-month trial ban during July and August, which Water Minister Graham Jacobs said saved about 2.2 billion litres of water, equivalent to filling 880 Olympic-sized pools and enough to supply towns the size of Manjimup or Collie for a year.

The permanent ban will apply from June 1 to August 31.

 The trial ban – for most scheme users south of Kalbarri – was introduced after water usage earlier this winter was running at 800 million litres a day, 300 million litres above average.

Dr Jacobs said today that the ban saved 50 million litres a day, while an independent survey last month indicated 93 per cent of residents supported the move.

“This is an outstanding community achievement because while there has been reasonably consistent rain, we are still well below the long-term annual rainfall average,” Dr Jacobs said

Dams were now at 45.5 per cent of capacity, their second-highest level this decade. They are holding 19 per cent more water than the same time last year.

Water Corporation figures show rainfall in all but one of the catchments for dams supplying Perth are below their historical averages for the year-to-date.

Dr Jacobs said the exact area of the permanent ban, and any adverse impact for industry and local government users would still have to be worked out.

This would occur “soon”, and some areas that took part in the trial ban – which ran from Kalbarri to Esperance and east to Kalgoorlie-Boulder – could have a case to be excluded.

These users were asked to voluntarily stop using bores during the two-month ban period, while garden bore users were allowed to turn them on for maintenance reasons.

“A lot of people say garden bores are not pulling on the scheme, but we all realise our underground water resources are all related,” Dr Jacobs said last month.

Source  :  www.watoday.com.au

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