New Zealand shares joined a global decline as investors sold off equities when long-term US interest rates fell below shorter-dated debt, a technical signal that may indicate an approaching recession.

Stocks trading near records, such as Meridian Energy and Contact Energy, fell.

The S&P/NZX 50 Index dropped 31.68 points, or 0.3 percent, to 9,519.31. Within the index, 36 stocks fell, eight gained, and six were unchanged. Turnover was quieter than usual at $90.7 million.

Stocks across Asia followed Wall Street lower, with investors spooked when the yield on US 10-year Treasuries fell below its three-month counterpart, traditionally a signal of weak growth expectations. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index was down 1.2 percent in afternoon trading, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 1.8 percent and Singapore's Straits Times Index declined 1.5 percent.

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The yield on New Zealand's 10-year government bonds fell to 1.935 percent from 2.008 on Friday.

New Zealand's defensive stocks, which offer investors stable dividend income, have been a beneficiary of the low interest rate environment. Some of those stocks, such as the electricity generator-retailers, came off the boil today. Meridian was down 1 percent at $4.04 on a volume of a million shares. Contact fell 0.6 percent to $6.56 with 1.9 million shares traded.

"We've followed the offshore leads, and are reversing a little bit of Friday's gains," said David Price, a broker at Forsyth Barr. "There's still reasonably good demand for defensive stocks with rates pushing below 2 percent for the first time in the long end."

Of other yield-stocks, Chorus was unchanged at $5.72 on a volume of 841,000 shares, more than its 543,000 three-monthly average. Kiwi Property Group rose 0.7 percent to $1.44 on a volume of 1.3 million, and Genesis Energy gained 1.4 percent to $3 on a volume of 884,000, more than twice its 90-day average.

Australia & New Zealand Banking Group led the benchmark lower, falling 3 percent to $26.51 with a typically small volume of the dual-listed stock traded on the NZX. Westpac Banking Corp fell 2.1 percent to $26.80, also on light volumes, after saying it expects a A$260 million hit to its first-half earnings from customer compensation.

Kathmandu Holdings dropped 2.8 percent to $2.42 on a volume of 57,000, ahead of its first-half result tomorrow. The outdoor equipment chain previously warned of sluggish sales through Christmas and the New Year.

Summerset Group fell 1.7 percent to $1.60 on a smaller volume than usual of 141,000, after buying plots of land in Rangiora and Blenheim for two new villages. The retirement village operator expects to spend more than $250 million developing the sites.

A2 Milk Co fell 0.9 percent to $13.68 with just 249,000 shares traded, about a quarter of its average volume. The milk marketing firm appointed a new head of Greater China today, starting from late April.

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Restaurant Brands New Zealand rose 3.3 percent to $9.30 on smaller volume than usual. A partial takeover for 75 percent of the firm at $9.45 a share by Mexico's Finaccess Capital will be scaled after already being declared unconditional. The offer closes tomorrow.

Trade Me Group decreased 0.2 percent to $6.40. The New Zealand Shareholders' Association today told its members it will vote any proxies it holds at next week's special meeting in favour of the $6.45 per share takeover by UK private equity firm Apax Partners.

Spark New Zealand was the most traded stock on a volume of 5.4 million. It rose 2.5 percent to $3.67. Z Energy fell 0.5 percent to $6.22 on a volume of 1 million.

Outside the benchmark index, IkeGPS rose 9.4 percent to 58 cents when the company said annual revenue will rise by 5 percent in the March year after failing to close a large contract. That also meant it missed its fourth-quarter breakeven target.

Veritas Investments was unchanged at 14 cents. Just before trading closed, the company said it's agreed to buy an Auckland suburban bar for $1.5 million plus stock.