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MARKET CLOSE: NZ shares fall from record on election jitters

MARKET CLOSE: NZ shares fall from record on election jitters; Meridian, Spark drop

By Suze Metherell

Sept. 9 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand stocks fell from a record as this month's general election created uncertainty for investors in light trading. Meridian Energy dropped from a record close, and Spark New Zealand fell from a more-than six-year high.

The NZX 50 Index fell 18.046 points, or 0.3 percent, to 5243.699. Within the index, 26 stocks fell, 16 rose, and eight were unchanged. Turnover was a smaller than usual $71 million.

The benchmark index has gained 11 percent since the start of the year, but over the past three months has traded in a 212 points range as electoral uncertainty ahead of the Sept. 20 general election keeps investors nervous. Recent political polls showed firmer support for the incumbent National-led government returning for a third term. That's given a boost to power companies, which would face increased regulation if there was a change in government.

"The market is grinding higher, for the want of a better word - there is no one day where it is up 1 percent or down 1 percent - it's incrementally moving, but the direction has been modestly better," said Rickey Ward, New Zealand equities manager at JBWere. "Markets generally stagnate heading up to elections. There is a period of uncertainty because you do not know what the outcome is going to be."

Meridian fell 1.9 percent to $1.32, paring an intraday record of $1.37, and has advanced some 27 percent this year.

The energy company "had a big run up, and now it's taken a bit of profit in a market that is lacking a bit of direction at the moment," Ward said.

OceanaGold Corp led the market lower, down 7 percent to $2.81, and has climbed 64 percent since the start of the year. Spark, formerly Telecom Corp, fell 0.7 percent to $3.08 and has gained 35 percent this year.

Vital Healthcare Property Trust dropped 0.7 percent, or 1 cent, to $1.46, after shedding rights to its 1.975 cents per share final dividend.

Air New Zealand fell 1.8 percent, or 4 cents, to $2.21. The national carrier sheds rights to its 15.5 cent dividend payment tomorrow, which includes a 10 cent special dividend.

Fletcher Building, New Zealand largest listed-company, rose 0.8 percent to $9.36.

Pacific Edge, the Dunedin-based biotech company, was the best performer on the day up 4.6 percent to 92 cents.

Outside the benchmark index, Veritas Investments jumped 11 percent to $1.22, the highest since May, after completing its acquisition of upmarket grocery chain Nosh Foods for $1.1 million, a purchase price which it said was $1 million below the company's net tangible assets.

Dorchester Pacific, the finance company, advanced 2 percent to 25 cents after it boosted its full year guidance to $11.5 million, from an earlier range of $10 million to $11 million. It is currently making a takeover bid for at least half of Turner Group, the auction company which it already has a 20 percent stake in, offering $3 per share. Turner shares rose 0.3 percent to $3.20.

Acurity Healthcare Group, whose major shareholders are seeking to take the company private, was unchanged at $6.97. It announced today it has lifted its stake in Endoscopy Auckland and Laparoscopy Auckland after exercising options for an undisclosed sum.

Smartpay, the listed payments terminal supplier, rose 1.8 percent to 29 cents after its said it will sell into the taxi market in Australia before the end of the year to counteract a forecast 8 percent revenue drop that will follow the loss of an Australian contract in December.


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