Pacific

Leader of New Zealand's central bank to step down this year

The leader of New Zealand's central bank announced Tuesday he will step down in September when his five-year term expires.

Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler said it was always his intention to serve only a single term and then to take on other governance roles.

Wheeler's deputy Grant Spencer will take over as acting governor for six months after Wheeler departs, three days after national elections.

Finance Minister Steven Joyce said Spencer's appointment will provide stability and allow the incoming government time to find a permanent replacement.

The New Zealand dollar was little changed after the announcement, and was trading at about US$0.73.

Wheeler has set the country's benchmark interest rate at a record low 1.75 percent and imposed lending restrictions on speculators to try to temper skyrocketing house prices.

Advocates say Wheeler has led the bank astutely through challenging times. Critics say he was too quick to raise interest rates in 2014, a course he later reversed, and has done too little to cool the property market.

Wheeler's announcement comes with New Zealand in relatively healthy financial shape. The economy is growing 3.5 percent a year and the unemployment rate is low at 5.2 percent. But a high level of housing debt could threaten the nation's financial stability.

"The governor has performed his role calmly and expertly during a highly unusual period for the world economy," Joyce said in a statement.

Wheeler previously held top roles at the World Bank before running his own advisory business in the U.S.

Spencer had planned to retire before being tapped for the acting governor role. Joyce said Spencer did not plan to apply for the permanent job.