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MARKET CLOSE: NZ shares mixed; A2 Milk rebounds

MARKET CLOSE: NZ shares mixed; A2 Milk rebounds, Heartland, Orion Health drop

By Sophie Boot

April 3 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand shares were mixed, with A2 Milk Co bouncing after recent selling while Orion Health Group sank to a record low.

The S&P/NZX 50 Index gained 10.86 points, or 0.1 percent, to 8,329.93. Within the index, 20 stocks fell, 19 stocks rose, and 11 were unchanged. Turnover was $104 million.

"It hasn't been a bad day for the market, given what we saw from the US overnight," said Mark Lister, head of private wealth research at Craigs Investment Partners. "Local investors would be pleasantly surprised to be slightly in the green given it was another rough night on Wall Street. We started off on the back foot but we've certainly recovered throughout the day and we're outperforming other markets."

Leading gains today was Mercury New Zealand, up 2.5 percent to $3.30, with Meridian Energy rising 2.5 percent to $2.952 and Port of Tauranga advancing 2.1 percent to $4.89.

A2 Milk gained 0.6 percent to $12.47. In a statement today, the company said it hasn't seen any change in growth in China and it's confident in its business after the shares weakened on news that competitors have begun selling their own A2-branded infant formulas in China. The stock dropped 6.5 percent last Wednesday when Nestle confirmed it is had launched an A2 product under its Illuma brand, with the product called Atwo and sold in China, and fell a further 4.2 percent on Thursday.

A2 said today that it noted the recent media commentary but "is confident that the past investment in its brand has established a strong consumer franchise which will continue to strengthen as its level of investment and distribution continues to grow", and said it "continues to perform strongly in each of its key markets and in particular has not seen any change in the growth of its China business".

"They started really on the back foot, earlier today it was off a good 6 or 7 percent, things have recovered though to be slightly in the green now," Lister said. "The whole market recovered in the day and when the Australian market opened, the Aussies saw a bit of value in A2 at those levels.

"Ultimately we'll have to wait and see whether any of those competitors gain a foothold and that impacts their market share, or whether their brand is strong enough to maintain that market position."

The worst performer was Heartland Bank, down 2.8 percent to $1.71, with Trade Me Group dropping 1.8 percent to $4.35.

Outside the benchmark index, Orion Health fell 8.6 percent to 64 cents, a record low. The healthcare software developer missed guidance for annual sales due to delays in finalising some large deals and said it's targeting annual savings of up to $30 million in a "substantial" restructure of global operations. The Auckland-based company's revenue was between $170 million and $173 million in the year ended March 31, missing already downgraded guidance of $175 million to $190 million, it said

"Obviously well, well below where the IPO was priced a few years back, they basically downgraded their revenue guidance after a few deals didn't come through," Lister said. "They were hoping to break even in the second half of this year, that's not going to happen now.

"They'll make a loss, not the worst loss they've made in recent years but a loss nonetheless. It has been a pretty rough few years for Orion and there doesn't look to be anything positive on the horizon," Lister said. "It does raise questions over whether they need to raise capital again, whether they've got enough money to keep going - certainly not if they keep going the way they are, and that's the reason for the share price being down. It's a real fall from grace which started a long time ago."

Metro Performance Glass rose 1.4 percent to 75 cents. It said its full-year normalised net profit was $18 million to $18.5 million on the back of weaker-than-expected Australian performance as well as some unexpected costs related to a change in leadership. It is forecasting reported net profit will be $16 million to $16.5 million versus a net profit of $19.4 million in the prior year.

"It's not quite as dire a situation as you're seeing with Orion, but still another bit of negative news from a company that has been a huge disappointment," Lister said. "It hasn't been sold off too heavily, maybe the market wasn't hugely surprised because they've got a track record of disappointing."


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