REFILE UPDATE 2-NZ central bank raises rates, seen on hold until December

Wed Jul 23, 2014 11:50pm EDT

(Removes extraneous word from headline)

* OCR raised 25 bp to 3.50 pct, as expected

* RBNZ: Appropriate to pause and assess impact of tightening, more rises needed

* RBNZ: NZ dlr high and unsustainable, could have big fall

* NZ dollar falls, interest rate futures rally

By Gyles Beckford

WELLINGTON, July 24 (Reuters) - New Zealand's central bank lifted its official cash rate by 25 basis points to 3.50 percent as expected on Thursday, but then suspended its rapid-fire run of interest rate rises to study their impact on the economy.

It was the Reserve Bank of New Zealand's fourth consecutive rise in as many policy meetings, taking the rate from 2.5 percent in March to July's 3.5 percent.

"It is prudent there now be a period of assessment before interest rates adjust further to a more-neutral level," RBNZ Governor Graeme Wheeler said in a statement.

He said rates would still need to rise in the future, but the economy was feeling the impact of its previous tightening, with commodity prices falling, and inflation moderate.

Consumer price inflation ran at an annual rate of 1.6 percent in the second quarter, Statistics New Zealand said last week, below the 1.8 percent annual pace forecast in a Reuters survey.

The move to the sidelines was widely expected given the recent fall in some key commodity prices, tame inflation, and strong New Zealand dollar.

The bank's forecasts in June implied the cash rate reaching 3.75 percent by the end of the year, two additional 25 basis point rate increases this year, and a steady pace through 2015.

A Reuters poll after the statement reaffirmed the consensus view that the RBNZ will pause until December before resuming rate rises, with a total of 100 basis points of tightening seen over the next year.

"Our view remains unchanged, we think the Reserve Bank is on hold until December, and they will start raising rates again then, but at a far more gradual pace," said ASB Bank chief economist Nick Tuffley.

Financial markets also scaled back their expectations of rate rises in the next 12 months to 31 basis points from 68 basis points before the statement.

KIWI DOLLAR BATTERED

While the RBNZ's economic comments largely met expectations, it surprised with its aggressive comments about the exchange rate.

"With the exchange rate yet to adjust to weakening commodity prices, the level of the New Zealand dollar is unjustified and unsustainable and there is potential for a significant fall," Wheeler said.

The New Zealand dollar plunged a full cent to a six-week low of $0.8593 before paring its losses slightly to settle around $0.8600. Interest rate futures <0#NBB:> rallied, pushing their implied yields lower.

"We interpret this as a direct warning that the RBNZ may intervene in foreign exchange markets by selling New Zealand dollars," said Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens.

The RBNZ had warned in May it might sell the currency if conditions were opportune.

Its latest statement said the economy was expected to grow 3.7 percent this year, but a sharp fall in some commodity prices would feed through to primary sector incomes.

The RBNZ said inflation was moderate, house price growth has slowed and wages were subdued, but spare capacity was being used up, driven by the earthquake reconstruction in Canterbury and strong migration gains.

Separately data showed the economy notching another solid trade surplus in June, with the annual surplus within sight of last month's near 20-year high.

(Reporting by Gyles Beckford; Editing by Dan Grebler and Eric Meijer)

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