The New Zealand dollar rose on stronger-than-expected inflation data but fears about the spread of the coronavirus kept a lid on the currency's gains.

The kiwi was trading at 66.18 US cents at 5pm in Wellington, off the day's high at 66.22 cents, but up from 65.88 cents this time yesterday. The trade-weighted index was at 72.72 points from 72.29.

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Today's data showed the consumers price index rose 0.5 per cent in the December quarter, taking the annual inflation rate to 1.9 per cent, just a notch below the mid-point of the Reserve Bank's target range.

"The market reacted the way it did because of the difference between the Reserve Bank's forecast of 0.2 per cent and the actual outcome," said Peter Cavanaugh, the senior client adviser at Bancorp Treasury Services.


Economists had been expecting a quarterly increase of 0.4 per cent for an annual rise of 1.8 per cent.

The World Health Organisation said earlier today that while some members are concerned that human-to-human transfer of the coronavirus is occurring, others felt it was too soon to declare what is known as a "public health emergency of international concern."

It would reconvene in about 10 days' time, or earlier if necessary, the WHO said.

"They seem to be taking lessons from central banks – they're watching and waiting," Cavanaugh said.

While watching and waiting can actually be a proactive stance for a central bank, in the case of the WHO, "it's a bureaucratic stall."

China has closed down travel to and from Wuhan, a city of 11 million people where the outbreak is believed to have originated, and three other smaller cities. Bejing's Lunar New Year celebrations, the biggest festival on the Chinese calendar, have also been cancelled to try to stall the spread of the virus.

"There's nothing the WHO's going to do that's going to be any more aggressive that what the Chinese government's already doing," Cavanaugh said.

Chinese travelling to be with family for New Year is normally the world's largest human annual migration.


Earlier today, Chinese authorities said the death toll had risen to 25, with 830 confirmed cases.

Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings said the scale of the coronavirus outbreak would have to increase substantially before it had a significant impact on credit ratings.

"On the whole, Asia-Pacific sovereigns have substantial financial buffers and room for further policy easing to offset any short-term hit to economic activity from the outbreak, but their resilience to any health crisis would ultimately depend on its scale," Fitch said.

The New Zealand dollar was trading at 96.63 Australian cents from 95.91 cents late yesterday. It was at 50.42 British pence from 50.17, at 59.89 euro cents from 59.43, at 72.45 yen from 72.20 and at 4.5905 Chinese yuan from 4.5588.

The two-year swap rate edged up to a bid price of 1.2220 per cent from 1.2119 yesterday, while 10-year swaps fell to 1.5950 per cent from 1.6200.