Money Editor for NZ Herald

Analysts upbeat on retail, building

Mood positive as half-year reports loom but high kiwi dollar seen as possible stumbling block this year.

Mark Lister said although expectations of earnings were still pretty modest the market would be less tolerant of bad results than six months ago. Photo / Supplied
Mark Lister said although expectations of earnings were still pretty modest the market would be less tolerant of bad results than six months ago. Photo / Supplied

Analysts are picking a positive reporting season driven by strong performances in the retail and construction sectors but warn New Zealand's high dollar could be a stumbling block this year.

A raft of NZX-listed Kiwi companies are expected to reveal results in the next three weeks, with SkyCity Entertainment Group due to kick off the first of the majors on Wednesday with its half-year financials.

Mark Lister, head of private wealth at Craigs Investment Partners, said its market expectations were for median growth earnings of 10.7 per cent in the NZX 50 and 8 per cent in the top 20 largest listed companies.

But there were several outliers and once the growth was averaged it was expected to be only about 2 per cent. "Three-quarters [of firms] should see earnings growth going into 2013."

Lister said although expectations of earnings were still pretty modest the market would be less tolerant of bad results than six months ago.

Back then Europe was in the midst of its debt crisis and there was much uncertainty over how it would affect businesses here.

"The market is not facing the extreme global risks like it did during the August reporting season.

"The US is still out there. But Australia has rebounded due to China. All of that means the environment feels better than August."

Rob Bode, head of research at First New Zealand Capital, said of the 25 companies due to report this month he expected 16 to have positive earnings per share growth.

"That's roughly two-thirds. Only a small bunch are contracting. We see it as being reasonably supportive."

Retail is likely to be the standout sector, says Rob Mercer, Forsyth Barr's head of private wealth research.

Mercer said listed retailers had strong brands and good market positions and had been doing a good job with their target markets.

Some such as Pumpkin Patch and jeweller Michael Hill still had aspirations of growth in Australasia. But he warned that the share prices of retailers were looking a bit rich.

Richard Frogley, an investment analyst at Macquarie Private Wealth, said it was the first time since 2007 where there hadn't been a profit warning leading into the results season from a retailer.

"It gives a much greater degree of comfort for the retail sector as a whole. It's nice to see the lower interest rate environment is beginning to help retailers along."

Frogley said power companies could do well, with Vector expected to hear back on a High Court appeal on Tuesday which could boost its share price and December figures showing Contact Energy was in a good position to do well for its half-year result.

Bode said there were definitely signs that the rebuild of Christchurch was now beginning to flow through to companies involved. "While it's a small part of the economy, we are starting to see unemployment levels from Christchurch improve very sharply."

But he said one of the issues for some of those firms was whether other parts of their businesses overcame the benefits from Christchurch.

"Fletcher Building has a bigger exposure to Australia than New Zealand. Opus has been benefiting from Christchurch - but it may be more than offset by what is going on elsewhere.

"It's one of the issues that some of the companies face."

The Rugby World Cup could also have cyclical problems for others with the previous year being higher because of the influx of tourists, Bode said. Auckland Airport, Tourism Holdings and Sky City may be among those affected.

Lister said currency would also have had an effect on earnings at the fringes and it could become more of an issue this year.

The kiwi dollar has gained 1.8 per cent against the greenback and 5 per cent against the pound since the start of the year. Against the Australian dollar the kiwi is trading over A81c.

Lister said the high currency had been a drag on earnings for some time but until recently the kiwi had been trading below the historical average against the Australian dollar.

But now it is starting to creep up it could put pressure on companies that do business in Australia - New Zealand's largest export market.

Bode also said currency was a key area of concern.

Mercer said companies should continue to see an improvement in earnings over the next few years but there would still be a few "bumps" along the way.

He did not expect to see overconfident forecasts. "They will temper expectations and be more realistic than the underlying mood."

Mercer believed companies would continue to lift their dividends, after cutting them back during the global financial crisis, making shares an attractive investment class compared with its peers. "The reality is it's a recovery that is gradual and fragile."

- NZ Herald

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