New Zealand dollar sinks after central bank sells


By Nick Perry, AP

WELLINGTON, New Zealand–The New Zealand dollar sank Monday after the central bank disclosed it conducted its biggest sell-off of the currency in seven years to lower an exchange rate that is squeezing exporters.

Data released by the Reserve Bank showed it sold NZ$521 million (US$410 million) during August. That came after the central bank governor, Graeme Wheeler, said the currency was too strong.

The disclosure pushed the currency known as the Kiwi down nearly 2 percent against the U.S. dollar to its lowest level in over a year before it recovered slightly to trade at US$0.78. The currency has dropped 12 percent since July, when the central bank announced it was suspending its program of interest rate hikes.

Many would like to see it fall further, including Prime Minister John Key, a former currency trader.

On Monday, Key told reporters a New Zealand dollar worth US$0.65 would represent a “Goldilocks rate: Not too high, not too low, just about right.”

However, he added, “Just because I might think that’s about the rate that works for exporters doesn’t mean that’s the rate it’s going to get to.”

The central bank had earlier been the first among developed nations this year to begin hiking interest rates. It raised the benchmark rate four times to 3.5 percent as it tried to cool the economy, which had been growing at a relatively fast clip of 4 percent.

Even as rates were rising, farmers who play a key role in the economy were facing tougher times. Wholesale dairy prices have fallen by more than 40 percent since February, prompting dairy giant Fonterra to last week announce a big cut in projected payouts to farmers over coming months.

Those farmers will be hoping for a boost from the central bank’s actions as a weaker dollar makes New Zealand exports more attractive abroad.

Wheeler has repeatedly said he believes the Kiwi is too high. He went further last week by releasing a statement saying conditions would justify intervention.

“The exchange rate has yet to adjust materially to the lower commodity prices,” he said. “Its current level remains unjustified and unsustainable. We expect a further significant depreciation, which should be reinforced as monetary policy in the U.S. begins to normalize.”