New Zealand shares rose, buoyed by steady gains in overseas market and a better than expected result from the latest dairy auction overnight.

The S&P/NZX 50 index rose 62.86 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 9,027,44 – its first close above 9,000 since early October. Within the index, 32 stocks rose, seven were unchanged and 11 fell. Turnover was $184.5 million.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.7 per cent while the S&P 500 gained almost 1.1 per cent.

A2 Milk was the biggest gainer today, rising 3.9 per cent to $12.10. Synlait Milk and Fonterra Shareholders Fund units also rose.

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Average prices in the GlobalDairyTrade auction rose 4.2 per cent overnight, more than economists had expected.

Westpac, which raised its milk price forecast on the back of the gains in the past four auctions, cautioned that much of the recent gains were driven by Chinese demand – which is at odds with signs of sharply slowing growth there.

Robert Garden, an investment advisor at Craigs Investment Partners, said it was good to see the market back above 9,000.

Volumes remain light, and some of the recent gainers had been sold off "pretty heavily" before Christmas.

Investors are wary about the outlook this year, given the signs of a slowdown both internationally and some slowing here. That makes international leads more important, and some investors may be watching the US earnings season for more guidance, he said.

In that general mood, "we will tend to follow a bit more what's happening overseas."

China is "obviously the big unknown."

Synlait, up 3.3 per cent at $9.66, was the next biggest gainer today. Fonterra units rose 0.2 per cent to $4.72.

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Spark New Zealand was the heaviest traded stock with 19.8 million shares traded – six-times the daily average the past three months. It was down 0.5 per cent at $4.05.

Garden noted that the bulk of that volume was completed in a series of anonymous transactions.

Other stocks trading more than a million shares included Trade Me. It rose 0.2 per cent to $6.34 with 2.2 million shares changing hands. In December the company agreed to a scheme implementation agreement under which UK-based Apax Partners will acquire all its shares at $6.45 apiece, subject to shareholder and court approval and no better offers emerging. A vote is expected in April.

Z Energy continued its recent gains, rising 0.7 per cent to $5.70 with 2 million shares traded.

Among other stocks beating the one million shares barrier were Fletcher Building, which fell 0.8 per cent to $4.94 and Auckland International Airport, which rose 0.7 per cent to $7.23. Generator Mercury NZ fell 1.4 per cent to $3.58 while rival Meridian Energy rose 0.1 per cent to $3.58.

Retailers were mixed today after a report showed December retail sales fell 2.3 per cent from November on a seasonally adjusted basis, with spending gaining no apparent boost from lower petrol prices that month.

Spending on home appliances and other durable goods fell 4.4 per cent, while apparel sales were down 2.1 per cent.

The Warehouse Group fell 1 per cent to $2.03. Clothes retailer Hallenstein Glasson Holdings fell 2.9 per cent to $4.06. Homewares retailer Smith City Group fell 12 per cent to 28 cents, while larger rival Briscoe Group was unchanged at $3.28.

Outdoor equipment seller Kathmandu rose 2.1 per cent to $2.40. Garden said the stock is "making a bit of a come-back" after being sold-down earlier after reporting weak Christmas sale.

Jeweller Michael Hill International fell 3.1 per cent to 62 cents. Almost 2.2 million shares changed hands.

The company today reported a 1.3 per cent decline in December quarter sales, with only its Canadian operations reporting gains for the quarter and key pre-Christmas period of November and December.