The New Zealand dollar fell as fears about the severity of the China-originated coronavirus drove investors into safe-haven investments such as gold.

The kiwi was trading at 65.74 US cents at 5:05pm in Wellington, down from its Friday close at 66.08 cents in New York and 66.18 cents at this time locally.

The trade-weighted index was at 72.36 points from 72.72. The latest reports on the virus are that at least 80 people have died and closing on 3000 people in China have been infected.

"It looks to be linked to coronavirus headlines more than anything else," said Mike Shirley, a dealer at Kiwibank. "It's a classic risk-off play."

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The domestic currency has been the worst performer among global currencies today with the Australian dollar just behind while the yen has been the best performer, Shirley said.

The New Zealand dollar fell to at 71.68 yen from 72.45 on Friday.

Markets are thin today with Australia shut for its Australia Day observance and the Auckland Anniversary Day holiday today. Movements have probably be exacerbated as a result, Shirley said.

But after hugging the 66 US cent level all last week, the kiwi is now threatening to break technical levels - the 55-day moving average is about 65.60 cents, although the 200-day moving average of 65.12 cents is still some way away.

As yet, no coronavirus cases have been confirmed in New Zealand but the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and the Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay told media in Wellington that there is a high likelihood we will see some cases.

But Bloomfield said there was a low-to-middling chance that the virus would spread once it arrived in New Zealand.

While it was unlikely anybody would die of the disease in New Zealand, hospitals around the country have been gearing up to cope because China's experience had shown about one in five people infected become severely ill, he said.

The World Health Organisation has yet to declare a global health emergency - cases have been reported in a wide range of countries from Australia and the United States to Japan, Britain and Europe - and the Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, travelled to China today to meet government and health officials there.

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The New Zealand dollar was trading at 96.58 Australian cents from 96.63 cents at 5pm in Wellington on Friday. It was at 50.36 British pence from 50.42, at 59.61 euro cents from 59.89, and at 4.5614 Chinese yuan from 4.5905.The two-year swap rate sank to a bid price of 1.1700 per cent from 1.2220 on Friday, while 10-year swaps fell to 1.5300 percent from 1.5950.
BusinessDesk