New Zealand shares fell as pessimism over trade negotiations between the US and China cast a pall across Asia. Exporters including A2 Milk and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare led the market lower.
The S&P/NZX 50 index decreased 39.27 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 9,245.65. Within the index, 17 stocks fell, 16 rose, and 17 were unchanged. Turnover was $118.6 million, with just five companies trading on volumes of more than a million shares.
Stocks across Asia were weaker, with Hong Kong's Hang Seng down 1.6 per cent in afternoon trading, Korea's Kospi 200 down 1.9 per cent, and Singapore's Straits Times index down 0.4 per cent. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are in Beijing for high-level trade talks, but have reportedly not made any inroads into ending the stalemate.
A2 Milk led the market lower, down 3.8 per cent at $12.79. About 2.1 million shares changed hands, almost twice its 90-day average of 1.1 million. F&P Healthcare fell 1.4 per cent to $13.51 on slightly smaller volume than usual at 412,000.
"Stocks are falling back on the trade pessimism, which is coming to dominate," said Peter McIntyre, an investment adviser at Craigs Investment Partners. "It's been pretty subdued today."
New Zealand's own relationship with China - its biggest trading partner - came under scrutiny today after China's Global Times reported of dwindling tourist appetite to travel to New Zealand. Air New Zealand fell 1.7 per cent to $2.665 on a bigger volume than normal of 1.7 million shares. Auckland International Airport slipped 0.1 per cent to $7.50 on less than half its average volume.
Sanford was unchanged at $6.89 on typically light volumes, despite the fishing group saying it was facing some issues getting salmon through Chinese customs. NZ King Salmon, which isn't in the top 50 index, rose 0.9 per cent to $2.20.
The Ministry for Primary Industries issued a statement saying there were no issues with primary products clearing Chinese customs. Fruit exporters Scales Group was unchanged at $4.60, as was T&G Global at $2.81.
NZX was unchanged at $1.02, with 862,000 shares changing hands, compared to its 142,000 average. The stock market operator reported a 22 per cent decline in annual profit, largely due to the cost of restructuring its business to focus on the capital markets.
McIntyre said the result was at the lower end of guidance and brokers' expectations.
Spark New Zealand was the most traded stock, with 4.6 million shares changing hands, more than its 3.7 million average. It fell 0.4 per cent to $4.065. Fletcher Building decreased 0.2 per cent to $5.22 on a volume of 3 million shares. Meridian Energy was unchanged at $3.75 on a volume of 1.1 million.
Contact Energy posted the biggest gain on the day, up 1.8 per cent at $6.40 on a smaller-than-average volume of 583,000. Ryman Healthcare rose 1.5 per cent to $11.23 on a volume of 387,000.
Of companies reporting on Monday, Property For Industry was unchanged at $1.93, Port of Tauranga rose 0.2 per cent to $5.23, and Steel & Tube gained 2.5 per cent to $1.22.
Outside the benchmark index, Wellington Drive Technologies climbed 9.1 per cent, or 2 cents, to 24 cents after reporting record fourth-quarter sales and saying it will deliver an operating profit for the year.
NZAX-listed BurgerFuel Worldwide was unchanged at 55 cents after extending KPMG's mandate to find it a buyer, merger partner, or joint venture after a strategic review found no need for it to keep its listing.