20 Jun 2019

GDP steady in first quarter

3:07 pm on 20 June 2019

Economic growth has risen modestly in the first three months of the year, on the back strong building activity, but leaving open the prospects of a cut in interest rates later in the year.

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Gross Domestic Product rose a seasonally adjusted 0.6 percent, in line with forecasts and the same rate as the previous quarter. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a broad measure of the health of the economy, rose a seasonally adjusted 0.6 percent, in line with forecasts and the same rate as the previous quarter.

"The increase in construction reflected higher investment in both residential and non-residential buildings," Stats NZ national accounts senior manager Gary Dunnet said.

However, service sector industries, which make up about two-thirds of the economy, grew 0.2 percent - the weakest quarterly growth in more than six years.

Consumers and tourists trimmed their spending with retail and accommodation spending falling slightly, while a slowing housing market was reflected in reduced real estate sector returns.

Primary industries were also softer, falling for a second quarter in a row as dry spells in some parts of the country affected dairy production.

However, there were signs that increased government spending is starting to flow through in health and social welfare spending.

The GDP-per capita, which is a measure of the country's standard of living, eased to 0.1 percent growth for the quarter

The annual growth rate was 2.5 percent, unchanged from the previous quarter.

The New Zealand dollar gained more than a third of a cent after the release.

More recent economic releases have pointed to a slowing activity with some forecasters picking that annual growth will slow to 2 percent or lower.

An economist said the data was relatively strong in the headline but softer in the detail and the outlook was uncertain, which might prompt the Reserve Bank to follow its May cut in the official cash rate (OCR) to a record low 1.5 percent, with another cut.

"The Q1 GDP result on its own may not convince the RBNZ that further stimulus is needed. However, subdued business confidence and the continued deterioration in global economic conditions may sway the RBNZ to cut the OCR (official cash rate) at least once more," ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley said.

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