Casino operator forecasts healthy lift in first-half profit as a result of higher turnover and lower costs.

New Zealand shares rose on relatively light trading, led by SkyCity Entertainment Group and New Zealand Refining Co which both signalled better earnings outlooks. Diligent Corp, Ryman Healthcare and Goodman Property Trust fell.

The S&P/NZX 50 Index advanced 22.8 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 6124.21. Within the index, 21 stocks rose, 23 fell and six were unchanged. Turnover was $87 million.

SkyCity led the index, rising 7 per cent to $4.45, a 20-month high. New Zealand's only listed casino company said it expects first-half profit to rise as much as 30 per cent as it benefits from improved trading in New Zealand, higher turnover from "high roller" gamblers, lower costs at its struggling Adelaide property, and cheaper funding costs.

"In downturns like this, pretty much all stocks get hit and fundamentals go out the window. But when companies come out with results like that, investors can realise that a stock has been sold off for no reason at all, and it gets well-rewarded," said Grant Williamson, a director at Hamilton Hindin Greene in Christchurch.


Government figures showed guest nights rose in November for the 20th month in a row, after earlier data showed visitor numbers rose 9 per cent to a record 3.09 million for 2015. SkyCity also owns hotels in Auckland, Hamilton and Queenstown.

NZ Refining rose 3.3 per cent to $3.74, and has risen about 50 per cent in the past 12 months. The operator of the country's only oil refinery said its gross refining margin for November and December jumped to US$10.82 a barrel, from US$9.91 in the first two months of the year, and customers paid it a record processing fee of $378.7 million last year.

The falling oil price has meant a significant turnaround for refining margins, with weakness in the kiwi dollar also helping, Williamson said.

Air New Zealand, which dominates domestic routes and benefits from cheap oil prices, was up 0.3 per cent to $3.04.

Sky Network Television rose 2.4 per cent to $4.35, and A2 Milk Co gained 2.4 per cent to $1.74. Steel and Tube Holdings advanced 2.3 per cent to $2.26, Skellerup Holdings increased 2.1 per cent to $1.46, and Summerset Group was up 1.5 per cent to $4.04, a two-week high.

The local market has largely followed global cues so far this year, with concerns over the strength of China's economy and falling oil prices weighing on investors' appetite for equities. With Wall Street closed yesterday for the Martin Luther King Day holiday, trading was light and global markets didn't spur a lead for local investors, Williamson said.

"Investors don't like all the volatility we're seeing offshore, that is certainly putting off buyers at this stage. With the reporting season not that far away, a number of investors will be waiting for confirmation before they buy some of these companies," he said.

Coats Group was the worst performer yesterday, falling 3 per cent to 48.5 cents. Diligent Corp shed 1.8 per cent to $5.89, Ryman Healthcare fell 1.3 per cent to $8.15, and Goodman Property Trust lost 1.2 per cent to $1.245.