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Australia's dismal April retail sales bolster case for rate cuts

Swati Pandey and Wayne Cole

* April retail sales -0.1% m/m vs +0.2% consensus

* Retail sales fall for the first time this year, A$ slips

* Exporters enjoy boom time with record trade surplus in Q1

* Exports likely added 0.2 ppt to GDP in Q1

* Current account deficit smallest since mid-1997

SYDNEY, June 4 (Reuters) - Australian retailers suffered a soggy month of sales in April in yet another sign of gloom for the broader economy just hours before the country's central bank is seen likely to cut interest rates to record lows.

Tuesday's data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed retail sales fell 0.1% in April from March, the first negative reading this year and confounding forecasts for a 0.2% gain.

The decline, led by houshold goods, eating out and clothing, pointed to a disappointing start for the June quarter and sent the local dollar spinning to the day's low of $0.6959.

Household consumption has been a major source of worry for the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) as miserly wage growth and falling home prices eat into spending power in a sector that accounts for 56% of the economy.

The figures will support wide expectations for at least two cuts this year to 1.00%. Financial markets are pricing in a 50-50 chance of a third move to 0.75% by Christmas.

A cut on Tuesday - the decision is due at 0430 GMT - will be the first since August 2016.

In contrast to the gloomy retail figures, other data released on Tuesday showed exporters had a bumper start to the year as rising prices for resources, notably iron ore, showered miners in cash.

The trade surplus ballooned to $13.6 billion in the March quarter, easily the highest on record, offsetting much of the country's perenial deficit in income, which includes dividend and debt payments, investment flows and the like.

As a result, Australia's current account deficit shrank to just A$2.9 billion, better than an upwardly revised A$6.3 billion deficit in the previous quarter and the smallest since mid-1997.

Yet because most of the boom in export earnings was in prices, not volumes, billions of dollars are stripped out of the real measure of the annual economic output. That means net exports added only 0.2 percentage points to gross domestic product (GDP) in the quarter.

Median forecasts are that the A$1.9 trillion economy grew a pedestrian 0.4% for the first quarter, which would see annual growth slow to a decade-low of 1.7%. Data on first-quarter GDP is due 0130 GMT on Wednesday. (Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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