The New Zealand sharemarket remained listless as record low unemployment at home and an expected tightening in monetary policy in the United States added new twists to investment.
In a topsy-turvy day of trading, the S&P/NZX 50 Index finished just ahead by 1.32 points or 0.01 per cent to 12,993.83, after reaching an intraday high of 13,053.58 and low of 12,968.18.
There were 71 gainers and 56 decliners over the whole market and volume was steady with 40.17 million shares worth $151.95 million changing hands. Established distributor Vulcan Steel will now list next Tuesday, taking the number of stocks on the main board to 185.
In the September quarter, the unemployment rate in New Zealand reached 3.4 per cent – equal with the previous record low set in December 2007. Analysts were expecting a rate of 3.8-3.9 per cent.
Wage inflation is now adding pressure, with labour costs up 2.5 per cent year-on-year and hourly earnings increasing 3.6 per cent, further evidence that the Reserve Bank will need to keep increasing interest rates.
Overnight the US Federal Reserve is expected to taper its bond-buying programme and start winding down quantitative easing, in its own move to curb rising inflation.
And the day before, the Reserve Bank of Australia hinted that it may start hiking its record low cash rate in 2023 rather than the earlier prediction of 2024 as inflation creeps up.
Mark Lister, head of private wealth research for Craigs Investment Partners, said the bumper unemployment numbers were good and bad news for the market.
"Everyone has jobs and income, and businesses want their customers to keep spending. It shows the economy is pumping, and there's no reason to put a pause on rising interest rates – which cause increases in borrowing and mortgage costs.
"The expected move by the Federal Reserve will be quite a turning point – it would be a precursor to increasing interest rates this time next year. Our market is a little gun-shy at the moment as it waits to see what the central banks do," said Lister.
The New Zealand Reserve Bank is meeting later this month, and is expected to increase the official cash rate by another 25 basis points, from 0.5 per cent.
All this is occurring when the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above the 36,000 points mark for the first time. The Dow Jones gained 138.79 points or 0.39 per cent to 36.052.63.
At home, market leader Fisher and Paykel Healthcare did the heavy lifting, rising 58c or 1.85 per cent to $31.98 on trade worth $29.56m. It was helped by Chorus, up 10c to $6.42.
AMP rose 8c or 7.08 per cent to $1.21 after selling its 19.13 per cent holding in Resolution Life Australasia to Resolution Life Group for A$524 ($547m). This completes AMP's exit from life insurance, earlier selling AMP Life to Resolution Life in 2020 for A$3 billion.
Mercury Energy gained 7c to $6.15, and Meridian was down 8c to $4.89. ANZ Banking Group recovered 36c to $29.58.
Retirement village operators Summerset Group Holdings was up 9c to $14.34, and Ryman Healthcare was down 14c to $14.16.
Tourism Holdings was up 7c or 2.54 per cent to $2.83; Vista Group increased 5c or 2 per cent to $2.55; Steel & Tube gained 4c or 3.36 per cent to $4.23; Geneva Finance collected 4c or 5.63 per cent to 75c; and NZME continued its recent good run, rising 6c or 5 per cent to $1.26.
Dairy nutrition company a2 Milk was down 8c to $6.51; Mainfreight shed 97c to $87.03; Ebos Group declined 45c to $35.53; Port of Tauranga fell 16c or 2.35 per cent to $6.64; and Delegat Group decreased 18c to $14.22.
Skellerup Holdings was down 14c or 2.18 per cent to $6.28; Move Logistics fell 11c or 6.08 per cent to $1.70; Foley Wines declined 5c or 2.98 per cent; and Scales Corporation shed 8c to $5.38.
Stride Property's portfolio has been revalued at $1.216b, representing a 1.1 per cent increase for six months from March 31. Its share price was unchanged at $2.30. Stride has now leased 74 per cent or 7140 sq m of the Mansons-built Carlton Gore Rd building in Auckland.
The purchase is still conditional on the successful initial public offer (IPO) by Stride's specialist office business Fabric. The IPO must take place by March 31 next year, and Stride said it is still assessing the options for Fabric. Stride withdrew the planned IPO in September because of current market conditions.
Seeka, the country's biggest kiwifruit grower, has negotiated an improved funding facility of $190m, up from $152m, with a syndicate of banks led by Westpac and including ASB, Rabobank and BNZ. Seeka's share price was up 3c to $5.32.