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MARKET CLOSE: NZ shares fall as raft of earnings loom

MARKET CLOSE: NZ shares fall as raft of earnings loom; Heartland, Fletcher drop, Sky TV, Air NZ gain

By Sophie Boot

Feb. 20 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand shares fell in light trading ahead of a busy day of earnings tomorrow, with Heartland Bank and Fletcher Building dropping while Sky Network Television and Air New Zealand rose.

The S&P/NZX50 Index dropped 16.98 points, or 0.2 percent, to 8,098.27. Within the index, 21 stocks fell, 18 rose and 11 were unchanged. Turnover was $84.4 million.

"The volumes are appallingly light, if you look at a lot of stocks the volume is just tiny," said David Price, broker at Forsyth Barr. "On balance, we have seen a bit of slowdown, the market has reached a level where it needs direction - whether that's from the reporting season or from offshore."

"We've had a couple of little confessions so far - Fletcher Building, Evolve out yesterday, but tomorrow is when we start to get the chunky stuff," Price said. "It really needs a result season with good solid results and strong outlook to push it forward, otherwise it will sit in a holding pattern for a while longer."

Companies set to report tomorrow include A2 Milk Co, Fletcher Building, Spark New Zealand, Meridian Energy and Ebos Group. Today, A2 gained 0.1 percent to $9.29; Fletcher fell 1.4 percent to $6.86, Spark dropped 0.7 percent to $3.455; Meridian declined 0.2 percent to $2.845; and Ebos dipped 0.4 percent to $17.15. Evolve fell 9.8 percent to 55 cents.

Heartland Bank led the index lower today, down 2.1 percent to $1.90. It boosted first-half profit 7 percent to $31.1 million as an expanding loan book underpinned all lines of business and strong reverse mortgage growth in Australia whetted its appetite to do more business across the Tasman.

Sky Network Television was the best performer, rising 2.6 percent to $2.80, with Air New Zealand gaining 1.4 percent to $2.98.

Outside the benchmark index, Veritas Investments fell 10 percent to 4.5 cents. ANZ Bank New Zealand has extended its debt deadline for the third time as Veritas seeks shareholder approval to sell the Mad Butcher master franchisor business and continue discussions on other asset sales.

Vista Group International dropped 2.3 percent to $2.60. It has bought back 7.9 percent of its Chinese entity for $7.7 million, leaving it with 47.5 percent of the business and allowing it to treat the division as a controlled entity within the group.

Promisia Integrative slumped 44 percent to 1 cent. Medsafe warned its Arthrem product could cause potential liver damage, though the company said the number of reported cases is "extremely small" and it stands by its product.


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