New Zealand stocks partially withstood a sharp fall on Wall Street yesterday, thanks mostly to the local market's defensive characteristics, fund managers said.

The NZX-50 index ended around 1 per cent down at 8781 in contrast to the US stock market, which dropped by 3.10 per cent on the Dow Jones index on the back renewed fears of a trade war and bearish signals coming from the US government bond market.

Fund managers said the predominance of defensive style stocks such as the big power generators on the local market gave it a degree of insulation from offshore volatility.

"It's been the pattern for quite a while now - the US market is more volatile than here, which is not how things used to be be a few years back," Josh Wilson, senior portfolio manager at NZ Funds said.

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Harbour Asset Management portfolio manager Shane Solly said the local market had also largely ignored Wall Street's recent gains.

"We did not follow the big rally that the US has had over the last couple of days, and nor should we have given the mix of stocks that we have," Solly said.

Lending support to the New Zealand market was a competing bid for Trade Me from US private equity player Hellman & Friedman at $6.45 a share.

The Hellman bid trumps an earlier $6.40 a share offer from British private equity company Apax Partners, which was announced on November 22.

Shares in Trade Me, an NZX-50 stock, rallied by 17 cents to $6.22 in response to the new offer.

Offshore markets are getting spooked by a flattening yield curve in US government debt, seen by some as raising the possibility that the world's biggest economy may be heading towards a recession.

On the trade front, the economic agreement President Donald Trump said he reached with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Saturday showed signs of unravelling on Tuesday, with the White House threatening new penalties against Beijing and multiple officials seeking to downplay expectations for an eventual deal.

Trump, in a series of Twitter posts, threatened to slap a range of import penalties on Chinese products if they did not make major changes in their economic relationship with the United States.

In other stocks, utilities software developer Gentrack, which has extensive operations in the UK and Europe, led the market lower, down 4 per cent at $5.52 in light trading, continuing its weakness since acknowledging concerns about its growth outlook.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, which has manufacturing operations in Mexico and derives more than half its earnings in US dollar, fell 3.5 per cent to $12.55. Some 1.2 million shares changed hands, almost twice its 671,000 average.

A2 Milk Co decreased 1.4 pe rcent to $11.06 on slightly lighter volumes than usual, while its supplier Synlait Milk dropped 3.1 per cent to $9.45 in thin trading.

Heartland Group dropped 3.3 per cent to $1.47 on smaller than average volumes. Australian data today showed slower-than-expected growth across the Tasman, where Heartland is seeking to expand its reverse mortgage business.

Dual-listed lenders Australia & New Zealand Banking Group and Westpac Banking Group fell, with ANZ down 2.3 per cent to $27.40 and Westpac declining 2 per cent to $26.95.

Spark New Zealand was the most traded stock with 3.9 million shares changing hands, more than its 3 million 90-day average. The stock was unchanged at $4.21.

Of other stocks where more than 1 million shares were traded, Kiwi Property Group increased 0.4 per cent to $1.36, Contact Energy fell 1.9 per cent to $5.77, and Argosy Property declined 1.3 per cent to $1.14.

Scales Corp slipped 0.5 per cent to $4.38 after raising its interim dividend payment and saying annual earnings may beat expectations.

Fonterra Shareholders' Fund units were unchanged at $4.71. Fonterra will release its quarterly results tomorrow where it's widely expected to cut its forecast farmgate payout. It will also provide details on its Beingmate Baby & Child Food investment, confirming it had agreed to provisional terms to unwind its Darnum joint venture.

Outside the benchmark index, Cavalier Corp dropped 11 per cent to 56 cents in light trading after the company said restructuring underpinned an increased forecast for first-half earnings, and noting weaker sales in softer market conditions.

- Additional reporting BusinessDesk