Bollard Cuts N.Z.'s Key Rate to 7.5%

New Zealand's central bank cut its benchmark interest rate by a half point to 7.5 percent, more than forecast by most economists, saying the economy is in a recession and inflation will slow.

The nation's currency dropped to a 22-month low, and bond yields fell after the decision. ```We've got room to move,'' Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard said in an interview from Wellington today ``We're in a loosening mode.''

Bollard, 57, said the economy is in its first recession since 1998 as the jobless rate rises, housing slumps, retail sales drop and a drought cuts farm exports. The New Zealand dollar, a favorite of the so-called carry trade, has dived 13 percent since July 24, when Bollard cut the benchmark for the first time in five years from a record.

New Zealand's dollar fell to as low as 64.95 U.S. cents from 66.26 cents immediately before the decision. That's the lowest since Oct. 2, 2006. It traded at 65.15 cents at 5:10 p.m. in Wellington. The three-year bond yield fell 19 basis points to 5.72 percent.

Today's reduction is the largest since 2001 when the Reserve Bank cut by a half point twice in the months following the U.S. terrorist attacks.

New Zealand's economy contracted in the first quarter and Bollard today joined the Treasury Department and economists in forecasting the recession.

The central bank said the economy probably shrank 0.2 percent in the second quarter, after forecasting 0.2 percent growth in its June policy statement. The economy will also contract 0.3 percent in the third quarter, it said.

Growth in the year ending March 31, 2009, will be 0.3 percent, the weakest in 10 years, the bank forecast. The economy expanded 3.1 percent in 2007.

Drought, the increasing cost of credit, higher fuel prices and a housing slump combined to stall the economy, Bollard said. The outlook for the global economy has deteriorated in the wake of financial-market turmoil, he said.

Exports fell for a second straight quarter in the three months to June 30 as dry weather curbed dairy production and shipments of milk powder and cheese slumped, according to a government report yesterday.

Dairy products are the nation's largest export. Total overseas sales make up 30 percent of the economy.

Retail sales fell by the most in at least 13 years in the second quarter as consumer confidence slumped and record-high gasoline prices left households with little to spend on discretionary goods.

Auckland-based Briscoe said on Sept. 5 that first-half profits at its sporting goods and home-ware stores slumped 71 percent amid declining sales.

House sales fell to a 16-year low in June and residential construction dropped for three consecutive quarters. The jobless rate rose to a two-year high in the second quarter.

New Zealand's inflation rate will probably accelerate to 4.9 percent in the year ending Sept. 30, the fastest pace since 1990, the Reserve Bank said today.

Annual inflation will be 4.5 percent by March 2009 before slowing to 2.8 percent a year later, Bollard said in a statement today. In June, the central bank expected inflation would stay above 3 percent until mid-2010.


Bollard Cuts N.Z., Bloomberg
9/11/2008 4:19:59 AM