Australian Leading Index Rose for 2nd Month But Rate Cuts Still Needed, Says Westpac

Australia’s[B] Westpac Leading Index[/B] grew at the fastest pace in over a year, adding 0.7% in April. In annual terms, the metric fell -3.5%, the smallest decline since November of last year. Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said that “while still deep in negative territory, this [annual] growth rate represents a significant improvement.” Evans added that the release is consistent with Westpac’s expectations that the economy will shrink 0.6% in the second quarter and contract at an annualized rate of -1.5% through the second half of this year, with positive growth coming back into the picture by the beginning of 2010. Australian GDP unexpectedly grew in the first quarter, boosted by the government’s aggressive fiscal stimulus efforts. Perhaps most notably, Evans said that “rising unemployment, higher fixed interest rates, and likely economic disappointment offshore will continue to make the case for more [interest rate] cuts in Australia.” For their part, the Reserve Bank of Australia has left the door open for additional easing, saying the current inflation outlook “gives scope” for further cuts if needed.