New Zealand cuts benchmark interest rate to new low of 1.5%

New Zealand's Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr speaks to media on Wednesday, May 8, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand. Citing lower global growth, the bank cut the nation's benchmark interest rate by a quarter point to an all-time low of 1.5 percent. (AP Photo Nick Perry)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Citing slowing global growth, New Zealand's Reserve Bank on Wednesday cut the nation's benchmark interest rate by a quarter point to an all-time low of 1.5%.

The cut brings New Zealand's rate in line with Australia's rate of 1.5%. It was New Zealand's first cut since November 2016, when the bank also cut the rate by a quarter point.

The bank said demand for New Zealand's goods and services had slowed since mid-2018 as global economic growth moderated. It said employment was near the maximum sustainable level but the outlook for employment growth was subdued.

The New Zealand dollar fell by about one-third of 1 cent on the news, and was trading at a little under 66 U.S. cents.

Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr said inflation was lower internationally thanks to things like improved computing power and a more global labor market. He said interest rates would stay lower for longer, as they had before the 1970s.

"If you want to call it a new normal, call it that," he said. "I would suggest we are probably back to the original normal."

New Zealand kept interest rates at higher levels than in many other developed countries after the 2008 global financial crisis, and even raised the benchmark rate to 3.5 percent in 2014. But since 2015 it has cut rates eight times.

The bank said lower immigration rates had slowed the housing market and led to lower household spending. It said lower interest rates in other countries had also put upward pressure on the New Zealand dollar, which hurts exporters.

Wednesday's decision was the first made by a seven-person committee that includes Orr. Previously, the bank's governor was solely responsible for the rate decision. Orr said the committee was unanimous in wanting to cut the rate.

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