New Zealand shares joined a global sell-off as a revival in US trade protectionism added to pessimism among global investors. Local exporters were among the hardest hit as a stronger kiwi dollar combined with the souring sentiment.
The S&P/NZX 50 Index dropped 73.71 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 11,228.27. Within the index, 27 stocks fell, 16 rose, and seven were unchanged. Turnover was $173.3 million.
Stocks across Asia fell, taking their cue from Wall Street where weaker US manufacturing data set a downbeat tone that was compounded by President Donald Trump's imposition of steel and aluminium tariffs on Brazil and Argentina. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 0.2 per cent in afternoon trading, while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index was down 2.3 per cent and South Korea's Kospi 200 Index fell 0.6 per cent.
"The US President imposed tariffs on Brazilian and Argentinian steel and aluminium in a shock overnight move that rattled investment markets," CMC Markets chief market strategist Michael McCarthy said in a note.
"The move followed weaker manufacturing data in Europe and the US and compounded already weak sentiment. Shares and bonds were hit hard, and the US dollar fell."
That negative tone helped push the New Zealand dollar to its highest level since August as the greenback was caught up in the sell-off, which weighed on local exporters.
A2 Milk led the market lower, down 3.3 per cent at $15.20 on a volume of 1.2 million shares, more than its 90-day average of 794,000, while Fisher & Paykel Healthcare was down 3.2 per cent at $21.30. The two exporters have been among the best performers on the benchmark index, which has been the pick of the major indices across Asia so far this year, with a 27.4 per cent gain in the year-to-date.
Australia's market was hit even harder with the ASX 200 posting the biggest fall across Asia. The Reserve Bank of Australia kept the target cash rate at 0.75 per cent today, with governor Philip Lowe saying the economy had passed a gentle turning point and that the board wanted more time to see how the current low rates played out.
The dual-listed banks were weaker, with Westpac Banking Corp down 1.8 per cent at $25.54 and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group falling 2.3 per cent to $25.80.
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand is scheduled to unveil its decision on capital requirements on Thursday. Heartland Group decreased 0.6 per cent to $1.67.
Gentrack extended its recent decline, falling 1.3 per cent to $3.70. The utilities software developer traded on an unusually large volume of 1.1 million shares, almost 10 times its 111,000 average.
Meridian Energy rose 4.1 per cent to $4.82 on a volume of 2.7 million shares, more than its 1.9 million average. Meridian, Contact Energy and grid operator Transpower agreed to fast-track an upgrade to the lower grid to reduce any impact of a reduction in production if the Tiwai Point smelter were to close.
Grant Davies, an investment adviser at Hamilton Hindin Greene, said the upgrade gave a strong signal to Rio Tinto – the smelter's controlling shareholder – and paved the way for the South Island's two biggest generators to shift electricity north if need be.
"If the smelter was to close, they want to be in a position they can rearrange the deck chairs and lessen the impact," he said.
"The signalling to Rio Tinto is that they're prepared to continue life without them."
Contact was unchanged at $7.10, while Genesis Energy decreased 0.2 per cent to $3.19 on a volume of 1 million shares, almost twice its 531,000 average. Mercury NZ increased 1.6 per cent to $4.90 on a volume of almost 4 million shares, more than twice its 1.8 million average.
Property For Industry increased 0.4 per cent to $2.335 after saying the value of its portfolio was expected to rise 9.6 per cent in 2019.
Vector was unchanged at $3.56. It said it had agreed to sell its Kapuni gas plant to partner Todd Petroleum in a deal that may provide longer-term payments linked to the field's production.
Of other stocks trading on volumes of more than a million shares, Spark New Zealand was unchanged at $4.48, Chorus increased 0.1 per cent to $6, Argosy Property was unchanged at $1.40, Kathmandu Holdings slipped 0.7 per cent to $3.03, Precinct Properties New Zealand increased 0.3 per cent to $1.805, Auckland International Airport decreased 1.7 per cent to $8.85 and Fletcher Building decreased 0.6 per cent to $5.16.
Outside the benchmark index, Delegat Group increased 0.6 per cent to $11.06 after telling shareholders at today's annual meeting that it was on track to lift case sales and deliver an operating profit in line with expectations.