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MARKET CLOSE: NZ shares fall; Ebos, Ryman, Air NZ drop

MARKET CLOSE: NZ shares fall; Ebos, Ryman, Air NZ, Fletcher, Comvita drop, A2 rises

By Jonathan Underhill

April 16 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand shares fell in relatively subdued trading, led by Ebos Group, Ryman Healthcare, Air New Zealand and Fletcher Building. Comvita fell after a profit warning while A2 Milk gained on news of a deal in South Korea.

The S&P/NZX 50 Index declined 8.42 points, or 0.1 percent, to 8,406.35. Within the index, 25 stocks fell, 14 gained and 11 were unchanged. Turnover was $89 million.

Grant Williamson, a director at Hamilton Hindin Greene, said trading volumes have been low in the absence of much corporate activity and as global geopolitical uncertainty keeps some investors on the sidelines.

Ebos dropped 2.7 percent to $18 and Ryman, which has gained 27 percent in the past 12 months, fell 2.6 percent to $10.66.

Air New Zealand fell 2.2 percent to $3.305. The airline said early engine maintenance checks will prompt some changes to its international flight schedule, but doesn't anticipate a hit to earnings and affirmed annual guidance. It made the comments after the announcement last month from engine maker Rolls Royce and regulator the European Aviation Safety Agency directed operators to carry out checks on certain engines every 300 cycles rather than the typical 2,000 threshold. For the airline, it means maintenance checks on the Trent 1000 engine powering its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner fleet.

Fletcher Building fell 1.1 percent to $6.27. The building materials and construction group surged on Friday after a media report that Wesfarmers was building a stake in preparation for a takeover. However, Australian fund manager Ellerston Capital announced it had built up its holding to 5.1 percent and the beat-up shares fit the bill as a turnaround investment - "sound businesses that have historically generated poor returns or under-earned versus their potential, are in transition and where we think earnings/returns will improve over the medium term".

"Fletcher could well be right for potential corporate activity," Williamson said. "When you have a depressed blue chip, predators are going to have a look."

A2 rose 2.2 percent to $12.47 after the milk marketer said it had signed an exclusive distribution deal with Yuhan Corp in South Korea, more than a decade after an earlier foray into that country which ended in litigation. The deal will see Yuhan promote and distribute a2 branded products in South Korea, sourced from New Zealand and Australia, with nutritional products produced by Synlait Milk, it said.

Synlait rose 1.1 percent to $9.48.

Comvita, the NZX-listed manuka honey company, rose 0.6 percent to $7.01 having see-sawed during the day. Comvita said today that a third party was currently undertaking due diligence in what may be a precursor to a takeover. The company also said that its after-tax operating earnings for the year ending June 30 are expected to be between $8 million to $11 million, down from an earlier forecast for earnings of more than $17.1 million as adverse weather in the second half of the 2018 honey season hurt its honey harvest.

"It's a bit of a double-edged sword," Williamson said of today's announcement by Comvita. "If nothing comes of it (the due diligence) then people will be looking at the fundamentals of the company again - the downgrade was pretty harsh."

Spark New Zealand rose 1.5 percent to $3.46. The company said today it has bought broadcasting rights to the 2019 Rugby World Cup and several other competitions for an undisclosed sum and has tapped Television New Zealand to provide free-to-air coverage and bolster production capability. No price was disclosed. The companies said other programming could be offered if the World Cup is successful financially.

SkyCity Entertainment Group fell 1.5 percent to $3.93 and Mercury Energy rose 1.4 percent to $3.305.

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