New Zealand posts budget surplus for first time since 2008; government plans to pay down debt

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New Zealand's government on Wednesday posted a budget surplus for the first time since 2008, fulfilling a financial target it set itself after borrowing billions of dollars to pay for the fallout from the global financial crisis and a devastating earthquake.

The slim surplus of 414 million New Zealand dollars ($275 million) in the year ending June represented just 0.2 percent of the nation's economy. Finance Minister Bill English said the plan was to pay down public debt over time.

The center-right government in May had forecast a small deficit for the year, but took in more tax and spent less than projected.

The result was a big turnaround from four years earlier, when the government posted a deficit of NZ$18.4 billion, equal to 9 percent of the economy, following an earthquake in Christchurch that killed 185 people.

The nation's currency was little changed Wednesday, with one New Zealand dollar trading at about $0.67.

New Zealand's economic growth has slowed this year to a little over 2 percent after prices plunged for dairy products, the nation's biggest export. The central bank has responded by cutting interest rates three times.