By James Glynn

SYDNEY--New Zealand's unemployment rate rose sharply in the fourth quarter to a seasonally-adjusted 5.2% from 4.9% in the third quarter, Statistics New Zealand said Wednesday.

"The December quarter saw a large number of people enter the labor force," labor and income statistics manager Mark Gordon said. "But while the number of people in employment has risen, so has the number of unemployed people."

This means there were more people available to work, and who had either actively sought work or had a new job to start within the next four weeks.

The reading on unemployment was well above the 4.8% unemployment expected by economists, and prompted a sharp fall in the New Zealand dollar.

The labor force participation rate was 70.5%. Economists had expected a participation rate of 70.2%.

The number of people employed in New Zealand was up 19,000 or 0.8% in the fourth quarter, from the previous three months.

The latest data comprise the third set of figures to come out since the survey was revamped earlier in the year.

The Labor Cost Index showed private-sector wages rose 0.4% on quarter and were up 1.6% from the previous year.

New Zealand's agriculture-rich economy is growing strongly supported by strong migration flows, solid commodity prices and record low interest rates. Business confidence is also strong while home owners are enjoying wealth gains through soaring property prices.

-Write to James Glynn at james.glynn@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 31, 2017 17:45 ET (22:45 GMT)

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