UPDATE 2-S.Africa Q3 GDP disappoints as mining contracts

Tue Nov 29, 2011 7:35am EST

* Mining, manufacturing, agriculture contract

* Bonds firm after GDP data

* Reserve Bank might consider cutting rates

* Job creation tough, monetary policy alone no answer

By Phumza Macanda

JOHANNESBURG, Nov 29 (Reuters) - South Africa's economy grew less than expected in the third quarter highlighting domestic weakness that might see the Reserve Bank consider cutting interest rates.

Rates on the forward rate agreements (FRA) market -- a gauge of interest rate expectations -- also trended lower after the data. Government bonds firmed sending yields lower.

The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) has left the repo rate flat at 5.5 percent throughout 2011, after reductions totalling 650 basis points in the two years to the end of 2010.

Statistics South Africa said on Tuesday gross domestic product for the third quarter was at 1.4 percent on a seasonally adjusted and annualised basis - less than the 1.8 percent the market expected - after 1.3 percent growth in the second quarter.

Mining, manufacturing and agriculture, which make up about a quarter of the economy, contracted while consumer spending supported the economy.

"Any boost provided by a rebound from strike action is likely to have been eroded by the economy's poor export performance on the back of the synchronised downturn in the global economy," said Annabel Bishop, economist at Investec.

"The poor economic growth outcome has significantly increased the chance of an interest rate cut materialising at the next MPC (monetary policy committee) meeting."

The Reserve Bank has said its focus remains the achievement of a 3-6 percent inflation target over the medium term but will remain sensitive to the domestic economic situation.

Credit data earlier showed growth ticked up to 5.52 percent a reflection of a modest pace in recovery.

JOBS

The National Treasury cut its 2011 growth forecast to 3.1 percent citing risks from a sluggish global economy.

"It seems that we are more dependent on the global recovery than domestic demand," said Mandla Maleka, economist at Eskom.

"If that is the case, then let's expect interest rates to remain low for an extended period," he said, adding the GDP number could put pressure on the central bank to consider lowering interest rates.

South Africa needs to increase the rate of economic growth to an average 7 percent a year to make a meaningful impact on unemployment that is at 25 percent of the labour force.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has said it will be difficult for South Africa to meet its target of creating 5 million jobs by 2020.

President Jacob Zuma's government has prioritised job creation to improve the plight of the millions who continue to live in poverty, 17 years after the end of minority rule.

"Without a meaningful increase in employment, especially formal sector employment, the South African economy will continue to lose momentum, aggravating the already unbalanced and worrying social conditions," said Kevin Lings, economist at Stanlib.

"A range of policy initiatives are crucial in facilitating economic growth, asking monetary policy (interest rates) to solve all of South Africa's economic woes is unfair and unrealistic."

The Reserve Bank's next meeting is on Jan 17-19.

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