* Q1 GDP to be hit by 0.4 pct worst case scenario-economists
* Coal, construction agriculture big losers from Debbie
* Tourism seen being hit too after damage to resorts
* Repair, rebuilding to boost growth in coming months
By Swati Pandey
SYDNEY, March 31 A devastating cyclone that
pummelled Australia's northeast this week is likely to have a
dampening effect on the country's economy with coal production,
exports and construction activity taking a hit.
While a more concrete picture of the damage from Cyclone
Debbie will be clearer in coming weeks, economists say
Australia's first quarter gross domestic output could be lower
by 0.4 percent, in the worst-case scenario.
That makes it more likely that the country's A$1.7 trillion
($1.3 trillion) economy will slow to under 2 percent in the
first quarter from 2.4 percent the previous quarter.
Cyclone Debbie hit as a category four storm on Tuesday in
the north of tropical Queensland state, which generates almost
20 percent of Australia's GDP at A$316 billion.
It was downgraded to a tropical low depression but on
Thursday was driving squalls with torrential rain across a
1,200-km (745-mile) stretch of Australia's east coast, swelling
rivers and causing major flooding.
"So Debbie's economic legacy could be fairly large," said
Paul Dales, chief economist at Capital Economics.
"The big losers are those construction companies that
couldn't get on site, the miners that shut down operations and
the manufacturers whose factories were empty."
In the Bowen Basin, the world's single largest source of
coal used to make steel, Glencore said its mines were
not damaged by the storm but restarting production depended on
railways reopening. BHP, was still assessing
the extent of any disruption to shipments.
Queensland's top insurers, Suncorp Group Ltd and
RACQ, said it was too early to put a dollar figure on the
Severe damage has been inflicted on vegetable and fruit
crops in the Bowen and Mackay areas, with potential harm to this
year's sugar crop which was due to be harvested in about six
The wide region impacted by the cyclone contributes over A$1
billion of agricultural production annually, providing about 95
percent of Australia's winter supply of tomatoes and capsicums,
said John Peters, senior economist at Commonwealth Bank.
Tourism is another area that has taken a big hit from
Debbie, with damage to popular resorts particularly in
Whitsundays island which alone accounts for about 10 percent of
Australia's tourism earnings.
While a lower GDP will not be welcomed by the Reserve Bank
of Australia, it is likely to look through the volatility in the
data when setting policy rates. It holds its next policy meeting
on April 4.
The deleterious impact of the cyclone will likely be
short-term with rebuilding and repair activity expected to prop
up economic growth in coming months, economists said.
"The State, Federal and local governments will rebuild
damaged rail, roads, buildings and bridges," Peters said.
"The private sector will also rebuild the port facilities,
marinas, and tourism areas. So the lift in investment could be a
substantial positive influences on the June, September and
December GDP calculations."
($1 = 1.3082 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Michael Perry)