Stock Takes

A closer look at the markets by Tamsyn Parker

Stock takes: Happy hour at Starbucks

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Starbucks might seem like a strange place to go for a beer.

But the company that operates the coffee chain in the United States is increasing the number of alcohol-selling sites to draw more customers into the stores during quieter afternoons and evenings.

However, it might be a while before Kiwis get the chance to head down to their local Starbucks for a few beers.

Grant Ellis, chief financial officer of Restaurant Brands, which operates the coffee chain in this country, says the firm has no immediate plans to sell alcohol in New Zealand Starbucks stores.

The coffee chain has been an underperforming part of the Restaurant Brands empire.

Ellis would not rule out selling alcohol in local Starbucks stores, but said the company liked to see how new concepts performed in other markets before it introduced them here.

BIG WEEK AT AIRPORT

The summer sun is back and Auckland Airport is basking in the warm glow of a record week but why passenger numbers are so strong has staff at the NZX-listed airport scratching their heads.

The airport saw more than 170,000 international arrivals or departures during the week ending January 8 - the highest ever demand for international travel.

There was little share price reaction to news of the mystery big week, although it has been climbing steadily from about $2.10 in August to close at $2.48 yesterday.

Auckland Airport in August posted an underlying profit for the year ended June 30, excluding one-off items and valuation changes, up 15.1 per cent on the previous year at $120.9 million.

The specific nationalities of the bumper crop of visitors will not be known until Statistics New Zealand releases the details but the results for December suggest Asia will figure strongly.

Traditionally important markets Britain and the US are shrinking and were down 5.5 per cent and 6.8 per cent respectively in December compared to the previous year, while China, Singapore and Malaysia soared by 24.8 per cent, 22.6 per cent and 44 per cent respectively.

MORE GOOD NEWS

Tourism operators will breathe a sigh of relief this week after Air New Zealand boss Rob Fyfe committed the NZX-listed airline to keep flying to London.

Shares in Air New Zealand have fallen from about $1.50 at the start of last year to close at 90c yesterday.

The Government plans to reduce its stake in the airline from 73.4 per cent to 51 per cent but with the market interest in the stock so lacklustre the airline is unlikely to be near the front of the sale queue.

The airline saw earnings fall 45 per cent to $75 million for the year ended June 30 and said it was reviewing long-haul routes - leading to speculation London could face the chop.

Had the national carrier turned its back on such a long-standing and valuable market it would have sent a shock-wave through the tourism sector.

Such an outcome was perhaps unlikely but the airline is fighting in a tough environment and last year said long-haul routes had been losing more than $1 million a week.

Fyfe in a letter to staff said the likely impact for London routes was that the airline would need to adopt a seasonally adjusted schedule that sought to better match capacity to weak passenger demand.

PUMPKIN PROGRESS

Pumpkin Patch, which was one of the worst performers on the NZX in 2011, has seen a big turnaround in its share price since the start of this year.

The troubled children's clothing retailer's stock has gained more than 18 per cent this month.

Late last week the firm announced it had put its 36 British stores into administration, saying it was likely they would be closed through a restructuring programme estimated to cost between $28 million and $32 million.

Ongoing trading losses and Britain's poor economic environment were the reasons given for the pullout by the firm's new chief executive, Neil Cowie.

But the rally began well before the news of the British withdrawal.

One fund manager said there had been concerns about the company having to conduct a capital raising, but before the announcement the market had worked out that Pumpkin Patch had no option but to pull out of Britain, which eased the worries about the firm having to raise cash.

Its shares closed at 75c yesterday.

MARGIN CALL

New Zealand Refining shares have taken a beating since announcing a 25 per cent profit downgrade last week.

Analysts James Schofield and Geoff Zame at Craigs Investment Partners say pressure on refining margins could see the share price test new lows this year of $2.50.

While the outlook for refiners improved during early 2011, the European crisis is likely to result in even lower earnings during 2012. Combined with NZR's possible $400 million expansion, to be announced in the next two months, dividends could be severely constrained, they say.

There is substantial overcapacity in the global refining system, they say. Margins will have to grind down further to force owners to make the hard decisions to close plants as has happened this year overseas.

"To be clear, we don't believe that Marsden Point will ever be forced to close, due to its high complexity, very good reliability, and isolation from major oil trading hubs," the say.

"Nevertheless, given that oil products are fully fungible, [readily estimated and replaced according to their measure] we expect a knock-on effect from the European crisis, to transmit through petroleum product markets (via Singapore) to New Zealand."

NZ Refining shares closed at $2.69 yesterday.

LOSING CONTACT

Remember 2003? That's when the country was moving into a period of strong economic growth and also the last year we lost to Australia at a Rugby World Cup.

It's also when Contact Energy shares were last $4.75, which is where they ended up yesterday.

The company has a significant gas generation portfolio so when hydro power is plentiful and cheap it suffers, as is the case now. It is also having to offer substantial discounts to stem the tide of retail customers.

New state owned enterprise energy company listings in the pipeline could also lure institutional and retail investors away from Contact and the proposed recalibration of the NZX50 index is also bearing on the stock.

The company announces its half-year results on February 21.

Speculation is that the brokers for the first of the SOE sales - Mighty River Power - will be announced today with local firm First NZ Capital tipped to be in the mix along with Australians Macquarie and US giant Goldman Sachs. The competition for the sales job has been hotly contested with an estimated $100 million in fees up for grabs over the entire process.

GETTING HUNGRY

Market speculation is rife that food and tax has a big future and that's not just wishful thinking. People think they could be a good bet in terms of investment opportunities, perhaps even real estate.

Listed landlord DNZ Property Fund is putting its money where its mouth is on both fronts.

Chief executive Paul Duffy said getting into the food sector - and particularly buying three Foodstuffs stores on October 4 - enhanced long term income prospects for the business. It also extended the weighted average lease term from 4.5 to five years, across the entire portfolio.

DNZ's top tenants now include Progressive Enterprises with its Countdown chain and Foodstuffs with its New Worlds, Pak'nSaves, Four Squares and other brands, which has now become DNZ's fifth largest tenant.

Others on the top 10 list list are Bunnings, the government, Fletcher Building, ASB, Meridian Energy, Mitre 10, Lion and Westpac.

In the next few weeks, PlaceMakers, IRD and the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commission will shift into DNZ buildings. Duffy was bullish about tax.

"The leasing in late December of 1494sq m for six years to a government tenant - the IRD - at 650 Great South Rd in Auckland was an excellent finish to yet another strong quarter for the company."

- NZ Herald

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