New Zealand shares drifted off their high heading into the Easter holiday, but still managed a 1.8 per cent gain this week as weak inflation spurred on expectations for an interest rate cut, making companies paying reliable dividends a bit more attractive.
The S&P/NZX 50 Index hit a record 9,982.24 on Wednesday as tepid inflation data prompted traders to price in a greater chance of a rate cut, but gave up some of those gains on the following day when several companies downgraded their earnings outlooks.
The benchmark index ended the week at 9,959.62, down 22.62 points, or 0.2 per cent, on Thursday. Within the index, 20 stocks fell, 20 gained, and 10 were unchanged. Turnover on Thursday was just $87.4 million in muted trading ahead of the Easter break.
The NZX50 is up 13 per cent so far this year, and pays the third highest average dividend yield across benchmark indices in the Asia Pacific region tracked by Refinitiv. Those cash returns have been a major attraction for investors, who have been willing to take on the added risk of investing in equities, while low interest rates suppress corporate bond yields.
Stuart Williams, head of equities at Nikko Asset Management, said the stock market's strength can't be viewed in isolation to how bonds have performed, as interest rates remain low.
"You might look on a five-year view and go yes possibly, but I'm not sure how over the next one or two years, you see bond rates materially higher," he said.
The government's Thursday bond tender saw the Crown attract 47 bids worth $373m for $150m of bonds maturing in 2037 paying annual interest of 2.75 per cent, and sell them at an average yield of 2.342 per cent. In February, the same maturity and coupon sold at an average yield of 2.608 per cent.
Utilities and property investors, which typically pay a predictable dividend, have been beneficiaries of that low rate environment, with the Crown-controlled electricity generator-retailers hitting records in recent months.
Mercury NZ and Genesis Energy gave up some of those gains on Thursday when they both warned annual earnings may be weaker due to the dry spell in the North Island and limited gas supplies driving up wholesale power costs. Mercury fell 2 per cent to $3.85 and Genesis was down 3.2 per cent at $3.06. Meridian Energy increased 0.6 per cent to $4.08 on a volume of 1.4 million shares.
Contact Energy was up 0.3 per cent at $6.82 on a volume of 1.4 million shares while Trustpower fell 1.7 per cent to $6.79.
Tourism Holdings led the market lower on Thursday, at one stage near a two-year low, when it downgraded earnings guidance for a second time in as many months, blaming a slowdown in US vehicle sales for the latest warning. It ended the week at $4.20, down 17 per cent on the day, and was the most traded stock at 1.4 million shares traded, more than 10-times its 106,000 three-monthly average.
Greg Smith, head of research at Fat Prophets, said the initial 24 per cent slump probably attracted some bargain-hunters and helped it recoup some of those losses.
"It seems like there're some headwinds in a key market for them," Smith said.
Restaurant Brands New Zealand fell for a third day, down 3.6 per cent at $8.06, after reporting a small increase in annual earnings and saying it wouldn't pay a final dividend and will instead retain cash for a major capital spending programme.
Spark New Zealand increased 0.3 per cent to $3.70 on a volume of 1.1 million shares on Thursday, less than a fifth of its 5.9 million 90-day average.
Fletcher Building increased 2 per cent to $5.18 on a volume of 1 million shares on Thursday. A unit of Fletcher Construction blew the whistle on an attempt to fix prices in a Christchurch tender for pipe maintenance, prompting the Commerce Commission to warn a rival company.
Of other companies that traded on volumes of more than a million on Thursday, Auckland International Airport slipped 0.2 per cent to $8, Goodman Property Trust was unchanged at $1.735.
Smith said the government's decision not to go ahead with a capital gains tax had buoyed the retirement village developers, and snapped a negative tone set by weak quarterly sales figures for Summerset Group a week earlier. Summerset rose 1.7 per cent to $6 on Thursday, while Ryman Healthcare was up 4.2 per cent at $12.35, the biggest gain on the day.
Outside the benchmark index, TIL Logistics dropped 5.2 per cent to $1.45 on Thursday. Director Greg Kern, who helped organise its reverse listing, resigned from the board with immediate effect and sold his remaining stake at a discounted $1.20 a share to institutions, private investors, and the company's board and management.
Turners Automotive was unchanged at $2.42 on Thursday after saying March quarter trading was better than expected and affirming its annual earnings guidance. It also said it will drop its Buy Right Cars brand for a single-brand strategy.