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MARKET CLOSE: NZ shares fall as global uncertainty weighs

MARKET CLOSE: NZ shares fall as global uncertainty weighs on utilities; Sky gains on M&A

By Paul McBeth

Aug. 16 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand shares fell for a sixth session, led lower by utilities Vector and Chorus, as investors remain concerned trade and geopolitical tensions could trigger a global recession. Sky Network Television gained after buying a new online rugby business.

The S&P/NZX 50 Index dropped 48.75 points, or 0.5 percent, to 10,655.36. Within the index, 29 stocks fell, 17 rose, and four were unchanged. Turnover was $143.8 million.

Stocks across Asia were mixed as investors weighed up stronger than expected US retail data and positive earnings from the likes of Walmart and Alibaba against lingering fears about the democracy protests in Hong Kong, trade tensions between China and the US, and falling bond yields around the world.

The low interest rate environment has been a tailwind for the local market, helping propel it to a record high this month because of the large number of local companies paying reliable dividends. However, low rates usually reduce allowable revenue for regulated utilities such as network operators Vector and Chorus.

Vector led the market lower, down 2.7 percent at $3.65 on a volume of 97,000 shares, less than its 90-day average of 147,000. Chorus fell 2.1 percent to $5.24 on a volume of 2.1 million, more than four times its 469,000 average.

"It's a mixed bag in Asia and may be a hangover from what's happening offshore, particularly Hong Kong affecting the region," said Peter McIntyre, an investment advisor at Craigs Investment Partners.

Several blue-chip stocks were weaker on relatively large volumes, which he said weighed on the index. Kiwi Property Group fell 1.2 percent to $1.61 on an unusually large volume of 4.8 million shares. Spark New Zealand decreased 1.1 percent to $3.98 on a volume of 2.9 million - in line with its average volume - and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare was down 1.1 percent at $15.80 with 982,000 shares changing hands, almost twice its 554,000 average.

Sky TV rose 1.6 percent to $1.24 on a volume of 1.1 million shares after the pay-TV operator said it will pay up to US$40 million in cash and shares for online rugby platform RugbyPass.

"That's a smart move by Sky. Apps are the way to go for them as we move into more ultrafast fibre and potentially 5G (mobile technology) as well," McIntyre said. He said the stock is one of the few on the NZX priced with potential upside, although "it's not for the conservative."

Precinct Properties New Zealand increased 0.3 percent to $1.835 on a volume of 2.4 million shares after reporting a 3 percent increase in operating earnings and saying its delayed Commercial Bay development is still on track for its retail and office opening dates.

McIntyre said the result was in line with expectations, and that investors are keenly watching Commercial Bay in anticipation of it driving up the stock's net tangible assets.

Precinct withheld more cash from Fletcher Building over the delayed construction. Fletcher decreased 0.9 percent to $4.52 on a volume of 1.1 million shares.

Of other stocks trading on volumes of more than a million shares, Contact Energy rose 0.7 percent to $8.40, Argosy Property fell 0.7 percent to $1.415, Z Energy decreased 0.3 percent to $6.66, Goodman Property Trust was down 0.9 percent at $2.125, Infratil dropped 1.9 percent to $4.66, and Meridian Energy was unchanged at $4.75.

McIntyre said earnings season gathers momentum next week, and he anticipates the results will follow Australia's lead in that a quarter have beaten estimates, a quarter have missed them, and half are in line. He expects exporters may struggle with the trade environment, while those firms focused on the domestic economy will likely report robust earnings.

NZX led the market higher, up 1.7 percent to $1.22. The stock market operator reported a small increase in first-half operating earnings and signalled expectations for more earnings growth in the annual result.

Outside the benchmark index, Michael Hill International fell 1.9 percent to 52 cents after reporting a 14 percent decline in annual earnings as margins were squeezed.

Evolve Education rose 4.7 percent to 11.2 cents after its biggest shareholder and director Chris Scott was appointed managing director, replacing its chief executive who will depart on Aug. 26 after 13 months in the role.

Chorus's 2021 bonds paying annual interest of 4.12 percent were the most traded debt security on a volume of 560,000. The notes closed at a yield of 2.04 percent, down 14 basis points.


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