U.S. Markets closed

New Zealand's unemployment rate jumps to 7.3 pct.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- New Zealand's unemployment rate surprised many observers on Thursday by jumping half a percentage point to 7.3 percent.

That's the highest level since March 1999.

The New Zealand and Australian economies fared better than many around the world following the global financial crisis. But that relative success has had its downsides. The New Zealand dollar has increased in value against other currencies, making the country's agricultural exports less competitive and tourism more expensive.

The quarterly labor survey released Thursday by government agency Statistics New Zealand showed the number of unemployed people increased by 13,000 over the past year. Bucking the trend was the Canterbury region, where employment increased slightly. The region is rebuilding after an earthquake last year in the city of Christchurch killed 185 people and destroyed hundreds of buildings.

The New Zealand dollar fell more than half a cent on the news and was trading Thursday afternoon at a little below U.S. 82 cents. The New Zealand stock market was down fractionally in early trading.