The New Zealand dollar was weaker as alarm over the spread of coronavirus builds and as warning signs of its impact on the New Zealand economy emerge.

The kiwi was trading at 63.18 US cents at 5pm in Wellington from 63.47 cents at the same time yesterday. The trade-weighted index was at 70.70 points from 70.98.

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"It's trying to rally but its failing," although the 63 US cent level appears to be holding, said Tim Kelleher, head of foreign exchange sales at Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

"The currency's certainly defensive. It's unable to rally but it's not falling either," he said.


"There are plenty of warnings around the economy," Kelleher said, citing Air New Zealand's hiring freeze as it grapples with challenges thrown up by the virus, forestry contractors calling for government assistance as exports plummet and Napier Port's week-old warning of a crisis if export logs can't be moved soon.

New Zealand, which has yet to report a confirmed case of infection, has closed its borders to travellers from China although cases of infections have now spread to 42 countries, up from yesterday. Almost 81,000 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths have been reported so far.

In the United States, although White House officials have played down the situation, the Centre for Disease Control has warned its population to prepare for a nationwide spread.

The virus is believed to have originated from wild animals being sold for meat at a market in the city of Wuhan in China's Hebei province. China has that province in quarantine among a number of draconian measures to try to contain the virus.

However, its initial attempts to stifle information about the virus and its changing methodology for accounting for the numbers of those infected have dented confidence in anything China's officials say.

"Everyone knows China's lying about their data and the fact that we're seeing cases everywhere now probably means its going to get a whole lot worse," Kelleher said.

One thing for currency watchers to look for is end-of-month rebalancing by fund managers of their currency exposures, he said. "You've got to be wary of month-end flows."

The New Zealand dollar was at 95.67 Australian cents from 95.83 cents at 5pm yesterday. It was at 48.61 British pence from 49.05, at 58.12 euro cents from 58.42, at 69.77 yen from 70.34 and at 4.4331 Chinese yuan from 4.4510.


The two-year swap rate slipped to a bid price of 0.9816 per cent from 0.9947 yesterday while 10-year swaps rose to 1.3000 per cent from 1.2975 per cent.