WELLINGTON, March 21 (Xinhua) -- The New Zealand economy has expanded at its fastest quarterly pace in three years driven by gains in agriculture, retail spending and construction.
Official figures, released on Thursday, showed Gross Domestic Product -- a broad measure of the health of the economy -- expanded 1.5 percent in the last three months of 2012.
On an annual basis, the economy grew 2.5 percent to 209 billion NZ dollars (172 billion U.S. dollars), the strongest yearly growth since March 2008 when the economic recession began.
A pick up in activity had been expected following a slowdown in the middle of the year, but the Statistics New Zealand figures released Thursday exceeded analysts expectations.
The improvement is broad based, led by forestry, retail spending and by construction which has been boosted by the rebuilding of Christchurch. Manufacturing activity declined.
Households spent more on televisions, furniture and appliances and used cars, while firms invested more in plant and machinery, offsetting a drop in government spending.
Statistics New Zealand sounded a warning about the impact of the drought on growth in agriculture this year.
Economists doubt the unexpectedly strong expansion will be repeated in coming quarters, but Finance Minister Bill English expects the improvement will continue.
English said Thursday the latest figures are pleasing and indications are that growth will continue this year as consumer and business confidence rises.
The economy was on track for growth of at 2-3 percent or more over the next few years, he said in a statement, though the drought is likely to temper overall growth and internationally the problems of high debt and low growth remain.
He said there is a pick-up in construction activity beyond the re-building of Christchurch which will flow through to other parts of the economy.