New Zealand shares slipped as the weakest business confidence in nine years and fears over future profitability weighed on stocks linked to the local economic cycle.

The S&P/NZX 50 edged down 0.68 of a point, or 0.01 per cent, to 9,326.59. Within the index, 21 stocks fell, 18 gained and 11 were unchanged. Turnover was $137.9 million.

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research's quarterly survey of business opinion showed the worst economic confidence since March 2009, with firms experiencing weaker demand and a growing number of companies anticipating shrinking earnings.

Courier company Freightways, often seen as a bellwether for the local economy, fell 1.4 per cent to $7.69. Port of Tauranga, the country's biggest export port, declined 1.3 per cent to $5.16.


"We've had some business confidence numbers that weren't very good," said David Price, a broker at Forsyth Barr. "The market is obviously taking stock that they are going to get a number of these factors coming through."

The government's petrol tax increase came into effect over the weekend, adding to the impact a weak kiwi dollar and rising oil prices are already having on costs at the petrol pump. A growing number of pay settlements, and difficulties finding staff, are also concerning firms.

Air New Zealand fell 1.5 per cent to $2.99, its first closed below $3 since February. Pushpay Holdings led the market lower, falling 1.7 per cent to $4.

Sky Network Television rose 1.4 per cent to $2.14, the biggest gain for the day, while Spark New Zealand advanced 1.3 per cent to $4.02. Heartland Bank increased 1.2 per cent to $1.73 and Mainfreight was up 1 per cent to $30.15.

NZX gained 0.9 per cent to $1.09. Shareholder Elevation Capital is urging the company to rethink its strategy and pare back its management and board. It claims the stock market operator's underperformance and flat dividend payments have cost shareholders $235m of total returns.

Among blue-chip stocks, Fletcher Building rose 0.9 per cent to $6.58, A2 Milk Co slipped 0.2 per cent to $11.38, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare declined 0.7 per cent to $15.11 and Ryman Healthcare slipped 1 per cent to $13.62.

Auckland International Airport was unchanged at $7.30. Queenstown Airport, which is part-owned by Auckland Airport, has scaled back growth plans to expand its noise boundaries due to community opposition.