New Zealand shares fell as the coronavirus outbreak continued to weigh on investor confidence, however, it weathered a savage reopening to Chinese equity markets as a weaker kiwi dollar buoyed exporters.
The S&P/NZX 50 Index declined 167.28 points, or 1.4 per cent, to 11,550.16. Within the index, 43 stocks fell, five rose, and two were unchanged. Turnover was $106.7 million,
Chinese stocks took their steepest dive since 2015 as they resumed trading from the Lunar New Year holiday, missing out on earlier reactions to the growing fears permeating among equity investors about the outbreak of coronavirus. The Shanghai Shenzhen CSI 300 Index fell 8.2 per cent in early trading.
Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets, said there was a lot of pressure on equity markets across the region and New Zealand was not immune to the global downdraft.
"This is a response to the nervous reaction we saw on Friday night in European and US markets, most growth exposed markets were hit. Oil came off again and base metals came off, which supports the idea that the big concern for investors is the impact on global growth."
Tourism Holdings led the local market lower, sinking 6.4 per cent to $2.80 on a volume of 269,000 shares. Among other travel and tourism stocks, Auckland International Airport fell 2.9 per cent to $8.40 on a volume of 1 million shares, Air New Zealand fell 2.8 per cent to $2.74 on a volume of 1 million shares and SkyCity Entertainment fell 1.9 per cent to $3.57 on a volume of 954,000 shares.
Yesterday, the New Zealand government announced it was restricting entry into the country from foreign nationals arriving from mainland China, following similar moves by the US, Australia and Japan.
Fat Prophets head of research Greg Smith said the travel restrictions triggered fears of a ripple effect across the wider economy.
"It's a response that was needed, but we are tourism-centric, so it has a direct impact on GDP, which the market has taken on the chin," Smith said.
"We are pretty heavily reliant on China, so GDP is going to be damaged this quarter."
Global logistics firm Mainfreight fell 3.4 per cent to $40.07 on a volume 147,000 shares, Freightways fell 1.2 per cent to $8.50 on a volume of 43,000 shares, Port of Tauranga was down 2.4 per cent at $7.40 on a volume of 120,000 shares.
Last week, the country's biggest meat exporter, Silver Fern Farms, warned of congestion at Chinese ports due to the extended holiday and restriction of movement within China.
Primary industries with exposure to China - New Zealand's main trading partner - have felt the impact of the downturn. A2 Milk fell 2.3 per cent to $14.65 on a volume of 735,000 shares, Synlait Milk fell 3.1 per cent to $8.51 on a volume of 23,000 shares and Fonterra Shareholders' Fund fell 2.5 per cent to $3.95 on a volume of 268,000 units.
McCarthy said in light of NZX-listed companies' exposure to China and recently downgraded growth expectations among economists, it could be argued the New Zealand market outperformed the region.
"One of the challenges for the New Zealand market is that the six top companies are all heavily engaged with China, given that direct exposure the impact on the New Zealand economy could be significant if there is a drawn-out slowdown in China.
"One of the saving graces for the New Zealand market is that lower level of the New Zealand dollar, which offers some protection against short sellers. That might be another reason to think the New Zealand market might outperform over the coming weeks."
Utility stocks, often considered defensive stocks that are insulated against global impacts, were also negatively affected today. Contact Energy fell 2.4 per cent to $7.26 on a volume of 1 million shares, Genesis Energy fell 1.9 per cent to $3.09 on a volume of 367,000 shares, Meridian Energy fell 0.5 per cent to $5.32 on a volume of 1.2 million shares.
Among the few stocks which managed to gain ground, Gentrack rose 1.5 per cent to $2.03, Goodman Property Trust rose 0.7 per cent to $2.335, and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare rose 0.5 per cent to $23.41, still following a strong lead from the healthcare industry.
Among other stocks trading over a million shares, Oceania Healthcare fell 1.6 per cent to $1.20 and Metlifecare held at $6.87.