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MARKET CLOSE: NZ shares rise as Fletcher jumps

MARKET CLOSE: NZ shares rise as Fletcher jumps on Wesfarmers report, Mercury, A2 Milk fall

By Jonathan Underhill

April 13 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 Index rose, with much of the gain driven by Fletcher Building shares, which lifted on a report Australia's Wesfarmers has taken a small stake. Mercury NZ led decliners and A2 Milk fell on concerns it could be hurt by rivalry in sales of dairy products with the A2 protein variant.

The S&P/NZX 50 Index rose 10.55 points, or 0.1 percent, to 8,414.77. Within the index, 23 stocks gained, 17 fell and 10 were unchanged. Turnover was $129.7 million.

Fletcher rose 8.6 percent to $6.34. The Sydney Morning Herald cited sources close to Wesfarmers as saying it had bought between 3 percent and 4 percent of Fletcher and may be considering a full takeover. A 4 percent holding would be about 27.9 million shares and there have been no trades of that size this year although a stake could be built up gradually.

David Price, a broker at Forsyth Barr, said while the Wesfarmers report had driven up the stock, traders were left scratching their heads because a potential bidder would be more likely to creep up to 4.9 percent - the maximum holding before it must be disclosed.

"The things we're certain of - they have issues at the moment in terms of refinancing their US programme," Price said. "There's the pending end-of-April MSCI reweighting and as it currently stands Fletcher will go out (leave that index), so we've seen selling ahead of that. And B+I is still to play out and there has been a lot of provisioning."

Forsyth upgraded its rating on Fletcher to 'outperform' overnight and Price said "from an execution point of view it will start rolling out" of its problematic Building + Interiors (B+I) unit. Forsyth Barr analysis shows ownership of Fletcher by Australian investors "is the highest it has ever been".

Forsyth Barr also upgraded Metro Performance Glass, which isn't in the NZX 50, to 'outperform' overnight. The commercial glass company jumped 3.9 percent to 81 cents today, having shed almost two-thirds of its value in the past 17 months and touched a record low last month. In a filing today, Accident Compensation Corp said it had lifted its holding in MetroGlass to 6.6 percent from 5.3 percent.

A2 Milk fell 2.5 percent to $12.31, having soared 57 percent this year.

"It's had an absolutely stellar run and there have been a few doomsayers talking about Nestle" and a report this week that a company in Australia planned to acquire Happy Valley Milk and begin processing milk with just the A2 protein, Price said. Still, "it's a very large market and they are a very small part of it."

Forsyth Barr research shows Aussie investors own almost three times more shares in A2 than in the next most-held New Zealand company, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, which rose 0.4 percent to $12.80 today but has fallen 11 percent this year.

Mercury declined 3.8 percent to $3.26 amid speculation it is another candidate to drop out of the MSCI Global Index in the next round of re-weightings.

SkyCity Entertainment Group gained 2.1 percent to $3.99, Z Energy was up 1.7 percent to $7.24 and Vector rose 1.5 percent to $3.30. Synlait Milk extended its gains, rising 1.3 percent to $9.38.

Market operator NZX rose 0.9 percent to $1.09. NZX wants to capture New Zealand's "natural advantage" in the primary sector with a new index tracking listed industry players and build on the early success of its dairy derivatives market, chief executive Mark Peterson told shareholders in the annual meeting in Christchurch today.

Chorus rose 0.5 percent to $4.04. The company said today that it continued to slow its customer loss as households ditch their copper services in favour of fibre, with total fixed-line connections slipping 1 percent. The Wellington-based telecommunications network operator said total fixed-line connections fell 16,000 to 1.54 million in the three months ended March 31, slowing the pace of decline in recent months.

Outside the benchmark index, SmartPay Holdings fell 4.8 percent to 20 cents and NZ King Salmon rose 3.5 percent to $2.38.

(BusinessDesk)

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