The New Zealand sharemarket had its biggest fall in eight months after being spooked by a new Covid variant that has spread from southern Africa to Hong Kong.
The S&P/NZX 50 Index began falling sharply after a jittery Australian market opened, and the local index finished down 165.71 points or 1.3 per cent to 12,628.89, its lowest level since late July.
The previous biggest one-day fall this year was on March 22 when the index fell 1.49 per cent. The index has now dropped nearly 3.5 per cent for the year to date, and it is just above the level 12 months ago, when it was at 12,602.02 points.
There were 47 gainers and 94 decliners over the whole market with a solid 56.75 million shares worth $203.35 million changing hands. The S&P/ASX 200 Index was down 1.74 per cent to 7278.3 points at 5.45pm NZ time.
Shane Solly, portfolio manager with Harbour Asset Management, said the new variant was a reminder "we are dealing with a pandemic that keeps changing".
"Israel and UK have banned flights from six African countries including South Africa. This spooked investors."
Solly said investors were also rattled by rumours of a large portfolio, including New Zealand stocks, going through the Australian market. "It could be someone losing management of the fund or it is being wound up – or its taking capital away from stocks and into bonds, we don't know.
"The United States markets are closed for the Thanksgiving Holiday and that has reduced liquidity," he said. "The local market is looking a bit tired after a busy reporting season and digesting good and bad news."
Many of the leading local stocks were hit by the "spooked market."
Fisher and Paykel Healthcare was down $1.18 or 3.49 per cent to $32.60; Mainfreight shed $2.11 or 2.29 per cent to $90; Auckland International Airport declined 16c or 2.02 per cent to $7.76 on trade worth $24.19m; and a2 Milk was down 15c or 2.23 per cent.
Among the energy stocks, Contact was down 7c to $7.90; Mercury declined 14.5c or 1.98 per cent to $5.945; Meridian shed 8c or 1.84 per cent to $4.53; and Trustpower fell 18c or 2.46 per cent to $7.15.
Summerset Group Holdings decreased 25c or 1.9 per cent to $12.94; Air New Zealand declined 4c or 2.48 per cent to $1.575; Serko was down 12c to $6.75; and AFT Pharmaceuticals fell 19c or 3.93 per cent to $4.65. Pacific Edge tumbled 8c or 6.15 per cent to $1.22 after receiving some analyst downgrades.
Freightways went against the trend, rising 20c to $12.60; Rakon increased 10c or 5.62 per cent to $1.88; NZME gained 5c or 3.88 per cent to $1.33; and Scott Technology was up 9c or 2.74 to $3.37 on the news it was building the world's first automated beef boning system.
Hallenstein Glasson surged 40c or 5.75 per cent to $7.36 as all its shops in New Zealand and Australia are now operating and the clothing retailer is paying a (Christmas) final dividend of 24c a share on December 17. The Warehouse Group, which held its annual meeting, was down 10c or 2.5 per cent to $3.90.
Steel & Tube increased 3c or 2.22 per cent to $1.40. The company spent $14,080 on 10,667 shares, at $1.32 a share, provided to employees who vaccinated before November 15. The trading took place through the Sharesies platform.
Green Cross Health, which owns Unichem and Life Pharmacy, rose 7c or 6.09 per cent to $1.22 after increasing net profit 9 per cent to $9.7m and revenue 12 per cent to $309.92m for the six months ending September. Green Cross is paying an interim dividend of 3c a share on December 22.
Stride Property Group fell 11c or 4.98 per cent to $2.10 after telling the market it has raised $110m through the placement at $2 a share and is now making a $20m retailer offer.
AMP was down 6c or 5.41 per cent to $1.05 after saying it will recognise additional impairment charges of $325m, post-tax, in its latest full-year financial result. The impairments will have an A$220m impact on capital.
Vital Healthcare Property Trust was down 3.5c to $2.895. The trust said this week it has completed stage one (retail and car park) of its A$165m ($172m) medical complex development at Playford in Adelaide. For the third stage, Vital has signed a memorandum of understanding with Calvary Healthcare to operate a $93m, 120-bed private hospital with eight operating theatres.
Transport technology firm EROAD was down 10c or 1.96 per cent to $5 after reporting a half-year loss of $2.86m on revenue of $47.98m, up 5 per cent. There was a growth in New Zealand and Australia but a fall in North America.