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MARKET CLOSE: NZ shares gain as investors take a2 above $9bn

MARKET CLOSE: NZ shares gain as investors take a2 above $9 bln, Air NZ climbs

By Paul McBeth

Feb. 22 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand shares rose, led higher by another strong day for a2 Milk Co after signing a supply deal with Fonterra Cooperative Group, while Air New Zealand gained on a higher interim dividend. Tourism Holdings fell despite beating earnings expectations.

The S&P/NZX 50 index increased 66.61 points, or 0.8 percent, to 8,266.88. Within the index, 17 stocks gained, 29 fell, and four were unchanged. Turnover was $229 million.

A2 Milk led the benchmark index higher, rising 9.8 percent to $12.90 as investors continued to rally behind the milk marketing firm after stitching up a supply arrangement with Fonterra and reporting stronger first-half earnings than anticipated. The company's market capitalisation rose above $10 billion during the day, placing a bigger value on it than Fonterra's $9.77 billion, although at the end of trading a2 was worth $9.42 billion.

"At one stage we (the NZX 50) were nearer to 2 percent - it shows how much of a swing it's been," said James Lindsay, a portfolio manager at Nikko Asset Management. "Year-to-date the business (a2) has been a major contributor helping alleviate the rest of the market."

Fonterra Shareholders' Fund units rose 1.2 percent to $6.10, while a2's existing supplier Synlait Milk gained 1.5 percent to $6.75, recovering some of yesterday's selloff over the new arrangement.

Air NZ rose 1.2 percent to $3 after the national carrier lifted its interim dividend, despite posting a 7.4 percent decline in first-half earnings over rising fuel costs.

Fletcher Building gained 1.7 percent to $6.50, recovering from a five-year low after yesterday's earnings result portrayed a soggy outlook for the construction firm's other units. SkyCity Entertainment Group, which is facing off with Fletcher over the escalating cost of building the Auckland international convention centre, fell 4 percent to $3.87, the biggest decline on the benchmark index.

Tourism Holdings fell 2 percent to $5.92, despite doubling first-half profit on its North American expansion and lower US tax bill.

Chorus fell 2.6 percent to $3.79 ahead of its Monday first-half report, which Forsyth Barr analysts predict will show declining earnings on connection losses. The network operator's biggest customer, Spark New Zealand, has been migrating customers on to alternative wireless and fibre networks in an effort to reduce its wholesale costs. Spark shares rose 0.8 percent to $3.345.

Among companies reporting tomorrow, Port of Tauranga fell 0.4 percent to $4.99, Comvita was unchanged at $8.38, Steel & Tube fell 1.4 percent to $2.06, Delegat Group gained 1.5 percent to $7.62, and Summerset Group slipped 0.2 percent to $5.81.

Outside the benchmark index, NZME increased 1.3 percent to 77 cents after the newspaper publisher and radio station owner reported a smaller decline in annual earnings than anticipated, maintaining its final dividend against expectations.

Dual-listed Michael Hill International was unchanged at $1.16 after reported a 66 percent slump in first-half profit on impairment charges over its US exit and overhauling its Emma & Roe range.

Allied Farmers was unchanged at 10.2 cents after the rural services firm reported a 71 percent slide in first-half profit and warned dairy herd sales may remain slow for the rest of the year.

TeamTalk rose 1.1 percent to 95 cents after the telecommunications minnow lifted first-half profit 59 percent after shedding the burden of its unprofitable Farmside rural broadband business.

Tegel Group fell 1 percent after warning annual profit may fall by as much as $2 million from disruptions at its New Plymouth plant from ex-cyclone Gita.


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