Australia's central bank keeps rates at record lows

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's central bank kept interest rates at record lows for a 14th straight policy meeting on Tuesday, saying the stimulus was justified given the outlook for sub par growth even as consumers showed signs of opening their wallets.

The result surprised no one but the local dollar did edge higher as the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) refrained from escalating its verbal campaign for a lower currency.

"Overall, the Bank still expects growth to be a little below trend for the next several quarters," said RBA Governor Glenn Stevens, in what was a carbon copy of recent statements. "On present indications, the most prudent course is likely to be a period of stability in interest rates."

Interbank futures had priced in no chance of a move this week, while a Reuters poll of 24 analysts had found all expected rates to stay on hold. All also suspect the next move will be up but not until far into 2015.

While low rates have supported home building and consumer wealth, the jury is still out on whether they alone will be enough to offset the drag from falling investment in the mining sector as a decade-long boom winds down.

There are some hopeful signs. Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics out on Tuesday showed retail sales expanded at the fastest pace in 19 months in September as consumers went on a buying frenzy for Apple's new phones.

Spending jumped 1.2 per cent, far outstripping forecasts of a 0.4 per cent rise. Adjusted for inflation, sales climbed 1 per cent for the whole third quarter, suggesting household consumption made a useful contribution to economic growth.

Less helpful was a widening in the country's trade deficit to A$2.26 billion (S$2.54 billion) in September as falling prices for key commodities restrained export earnings even as volumes improved.

The steep decline in prices for commodities, notably iron ore, is a major reason the RBA has been agitating for a greater drop in the local currency.

In his statement on Tuesday, Mr Stevens said the currency was still above most estimates of its fundamental value, but stopped short of calling for a further drop.

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