The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

Stock Takes: The storm following the calm

Major stocks including Auckland Airport have copped some of the heaviest selling this week.
Major stocks including Auckland Airport have copped some of the heaviest selling this week.

Boring. That was how one local analyst described the extended stretch of calm that came crashing to an end in recent days as global markets became gripped by risk aversion linked largely to fears about US interest rates.

Mundane it might have been, but the more than two months of market tranquillity was arguably preferable to the recent rout, especially Monday's savage sell-off that saw the S&P/NZX 50 Index close 2.5 per cent lower.

Investors will have been licking their wounds after the benchmark index - led by some of its biggest constituents, such as Auckland Airport and Fletcher Building - fell 5 per cent over the past six trading days.

On the other hand, shareholders can take solace in the fact the NZX 50 remains up 13.8 per cent for the year and not far below the all-time high it reached last week.

Where next?

The big question now is where to next.

Is it time to head for the hills?

Low interest rates and bond yields have been a boon for Kiwi equities, prompting international and local investors to pile into large-cap "bond proxy" NZX stocks for the solid dividends they provide.

That goes some way towards explaining why the NZX 50 got hit so much harder than most other indices around the world during Monday's sell-off, which was sparked by comments from a Federal Reserve staffer that were interpreted as suggesting a rate hike by the US central bank could take place as early as next week.

It remains to be seen how global sharemarkets will react to the Fed removing the elixir of ultra-low interest rates.

Traders are obsessing over whether that process will begin next week, in December or next year, but the fact of the matter is it's going to happen eventually.

And Monday's NZX 50 plunge may have been a taste of what's in store for the local market in a world of rising US interest rates.

"Over the past few years our rule of thumb has been that New Zealand is a safe haven and [the recent sell- off] was just a glimpse of how we might behave in a sell-off that's led by rising bond yields," JBWere investment strategist Bernard Doyle said on Wednesday.

"That suggests that our safe-haven status might be starting to look a little frayed."

And there are plenty of other potential sources of volatility, ranging from the US Presidential election to geopolitical events.

In a note to clients, published last week, Harbour Asset Management said elevated equity valuations and "crowded trades" - investors liked and disliked the same stocks and sectors - meant markets were likely to react aggressively to small changes in information.

"In some cases markets will overreact, creating opportunities for patient investors," the fund manager said.

Grant Williamson, of sharebrokers Hamilton Hindin Greene, said the local market would be supported by capital shareholders receive from the Nuplex takeover needing to find a home.

The chemical and resins manufacturer de-listed on Tuesday following the $1 billion takeover by private equity-backed Belgian company Allnex.

Battle lines drawn

Chief executive Brent Robinson is one target of the Shareholders Association. Photo / Getty Images.
Chief executive Brent Robinson is one target of the Shareholders Association. Photo / Getty Images.

The Shareholders Association will be putting on its war paint today ahead of Rakon's annual meeting, scheduled to kick off at Auckland's Viaduct Events Centre this afternoon.

The group has called for investors to vote against the re-election of executive director Darren Robinson at the AGM, while saying chief executive Brent Robinson isn't the right man for the job and chairman Bryan Mogridge's position is "up in the air".

It has also said Warren Robinson - Darren and Brent's father, who founded the company in 1967 - should voluntarily stand down from the board.

It will be a rare case of successful shareholder activism if the association is successful in its bid to roll at least one director of the embattled high-tech component manufacturer.

The company, which has never paid a dividend since listing a decade ago, has made only one annual profit - $3.2 million in 2015 - amid total losses of nearly $119m over the past five years.

Rakon shares, which have fallen 42 per cent over the past year, closed down 2.4 per cent at 20c last night.

- NZ Herald

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