The New Zealand dollar fell after weaker than expected business confidence data and after building consent figures also came in on the weak side.

The kiwi was trading at 66.24 US cents at 5pm in Wellington from 66.51 at the same time yesterday while the trade-weighted index was at 72.45 points from 72.74.

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The quarterly survey of business opinion "wasn't as good as we thought it would be. It was a very slight improvement only," said Tim Kelleher, head of foreign exchange sales at Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

The QSBO showed businesses remain deeply pessimistic, even though they're not as glum as they were last year. A net 26 per cent of those surveyed now expect the economy to worsen this year, although that was down from 35 per cent three months ago.

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A net 11 per cent of respondents expect their own businesses had experienced weaker activity, unchanged from three months earlier.

Satish Ranchhod, an economist at Westpac, said the survey still suggested an upturn, if only gradual.

"Today's report was a little less upbeat than other recent gauges of business activity. However, it still looks like the New Zealand economy has turned a corner and conditions are improving," Ranchhod said.

The building consents figures showed an 8.5 per cent fall in consents in November but consents for the 12 months ended November were up 13 per cent and at their highest level since 1975.

The market is subdued ahead of the expected signing of a trade agreement between the United States and China in Washington on Wednesday.

In another positive sign of a thawing of relations between the two global heavyweight economies, the US dropped its formal designation of China being a currency manipulator.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement that the deal includes commitments on currency practices and undertakings from China to be transparent and accountable.

A joint report by Politico and the South China Morning Post said the deal includes pledges by China to buy US$200 billion ($301.6b) of US goods over two years, including US$50b of energy and US$40b of agricultural products.

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The New Zealand dollar was trading at 96.00 Australian cents from 96.15 yesterday, at 50.98 British pence from 51.01, at 59.48 euro cents from 59.76, at 72.92 yen from 72.91 and at 4.5537 Chinese yuan from 4.5894.

The two-year swap rate rose to a bid price of 1.1834 per cent from 1.1600, while 10-year swaps rose to 1.6600 per cent from 1.6025.