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GDP projection: Men working on a new residential building in Auckland. The RBNZ last week forecast 1.8% growth as it raised interest rates by a half-percentage point for a fourth straight meeting. — AP

WELLINGTON: New Zealand posted a second consecutive quarterly decline in retail sales volumes, opening up the possibility that the economy fell into a technical recession in the first half of the year.

Sales adjusted for inflation dropped 2.3% in the three months through June, confounding economists’ expectations for a 1.7% gain, government data showed yesterday. That followed a 0.9% decline in the first quarter.

The result raises the prospect of back-to-back falls in quarterly gross domestic product, the definition of recession in New Zealand. The economy shrank by 0.2% in the first quarter.

While leading indicators of exports, manufacturing and construction have been soft, no economist predicts a slump.

Indeed, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) last week forecast 1.8% growth as it raised interest rates by a half-percentage point for a fourth straight meeting.

“Much weaker than expected retail volumes highlight the risk that New Zealand was in a technical recession in the first half of 2022,” said Mark Smith, senior economist at ASB Bank in Auckland. “This is not our core view.”

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ASB currently expects the economy grew 0.8% in the second quarter, and will revise that view in coming weeks as more data emerges. The gross domestic product report is due on Sept 15.

Economists said that even a sharper-than-expected drop in economic growth wouldn’t deter the RBNZ from its tightening path.

The central bank last week increased the Official Cash Rate (OCR) to 3% and said it would continue to tighten “at pace.” It projected a peak for the OCR of 4.1% next year.

“On face value, today’s data suggest the economy may have been in a technical recession in the first half of the year,” said Miles Workman, senior economist at ANZ Bank in Wellington.

Still, “capacity pressures are so stretched that weaker-than-expected economic activity may not necessarily translate into weaker-than-expected inflation,” he said.

ANZ provisionally projects 1% growth in the second quarter, and forecasts the RBNZ will hike the OCR to 4% by the end of 2022. — Bloomberg


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