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Bright outlook for mining remains: Swan

Growth at the tail end of 2012 might not have been as upbeat as expected, but new data suggests the economy will continue to be underpinned by mining investment for a while yet.

And there were further signs that lower interest rates were making their mark with new home sales rising for a fourth consecutive month in January.

Treasurer Wayne Swan said the latest capital expenditure (capex) data on Thursday was a further sign of continued resilience in the economy.

"While investment can be lumpy quarter on quarter, these figures confirm the bright outlook for mining investment over the next year or so, with substantial investment still to come," he said.

Economists were quick to nudge down their forecasts for next week's national accounts after capex data for the December quarter showed an unexpected a drop in actual spending, falling by a seasonally adjusted 1.2 per cent to $41 billion.

Like Wednesday's construction work for the same period, economists had expected a positive outcome.

As such, growth looks set to fall well short of the 1.1 per cent needed to achieve the Reserve Bank of Australia's (RBA) forecast for an annual expansion of 3.5 per cent.

However, the central bank will draw comfort from the planned investment contained within the capex report, which shows mining projects will retain a solid presence in the economy.

Last Friday, RBA governor Glenn Stevens told federal politicians that the peak in resource investment was now close.

TD Securities strategist Alvin Pontoh said the data left him even more confident that the post-peak will be more akin to a "plateau than a cliff".

The latest estimate for capex spending in 2012/13 was $168 billion, a 1.3 per cent downgrade from that forecast three months earlier.

This was partly owing to a 2.7 per cent downgrade in mining investment, although this still stood at $106 billion for the year.

At the same time, the first estimate for 2013/14 capex was $158.5 billion, of which $100 billion would be in mining.

Mr Swan said while the transition from mining to non-mining growth drivers may not be seamless, there were encouraging signs with investment intentions rising for service industries, while recent data showed a tentative recovery in residential construction.

However, the treasurer said other parts of the non-mining economy remained subdued because of a sustained high dollar.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey told a conference in Brisbane that while there is no "correct" value for the dollar, its movements create both losers and winners.

"Those who argue for a lower dollar are effectively arguing in favour of higher prices for consumers," Mr Hockey told the Committee for Economic Development of Australia.

"We would need to be extremely cautious in tinkering with such a successful policy measure."

Separately, the Housing Industry Association said new home sales rose for a fourth consecutive month, increasing 4.2 per cent in January.

"It is a promising update to see the momentum of late 2012 carrying into the new year," the association's chief economist Harley Dale said.

However, demand for credit remains subdued despite lower interest rates.

Notably, the RBA's latest data shows annual housing credit growth sinking to 4.4 per cent, it lowest level since the series began in 1976.