New Zealand shares were dragged lower as the market's biggest companies, including Meridian Energy, Ryman Healthcare and Auckland International Airport, were among those sold off.

The S&P/NZX 50 Index fell 19.3 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 11,537.68. Within the index, 18 stocks fell, 27 rose, and five were unchanged. Turnover was $106.4 million, down on the $138 million daily average in December.

The local bourse was the only major benchmark index across Asia-Pacific to decline, with global investors upbeat that tense relations between the US and Iran won't deteriorate. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 1.1 per cent in afternoon trading, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index rose 0.6 per cent and South Korea's Kospi 200 Index gained 1.2 per cent.

Tensions ratcheted up when US President Donald Trump ordered a fatal drone strike on Iranian General Qassem Soleimani last week.But investors have taken it as a good sign that violence hasn't escalated beyond Iran's missile attack on two US military bases in neighbouring Iraq.

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"There been a nice recovery in international markets overnight with a little bit more confidence now Iran and Trump seem to have settled down," said Grant Williamson, a director at Hamilton Hindin Greene.

"The New Zealand market is very mixed, particularly among the blue-chip stocks with reasonable moves both ways."

Meridian led the market lower, down 3.9 per cent at $4.90 on a volume of 1.3 million shares, less than its 90-day average of 1.9 million. Ryman fell 2.6 per cent to $16.35, Auckland Airport was down 2 per cent at $9.01 and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare declined 1.8 per cent to $21.50.

At the other end, Z Energy rose 2.2 per cent to $4.60 with 1.1 million shares traded, Air New Zealand was up 2.1 per cent at $2.96, and Kiwi Property Group advanced 2 per cent to $1.56 with 1.4 million traded.

Infratil rose 1.7 per cent to $5.30, a record close, and extended its gain this week since revaluing its 48 per cent stake in CDC Data Centres by as much as $700 million.

Pushpay Holdings posted the day's biggest gain on the benchmark index, up 3.4 per cent at $4.30 with 156,000 shares traded, about a quarter of its 569,000 average.

Burgerfuel shares surged after the comapny said it was pulling out of Iraq. Photo/Michael Craig
Burgerfuel shares surged after the comapny said it was pulling out of Iraq. Photo/Michael Craig

Goodman Property Trust was the most traded stock with 3.2 million units changing hands, more than three times its daily average the past three months. The stock fell 0.9 per cent to $2.23.

Among other stocks trading on volumes of more than a million shares, Spark New Zealand rose 0.6 per cent to $4.55 and Metlifecare increased 0.2 per cent to $6.87, still shy of the $7 takeover offer.

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Williamson said Metlifecare's scheme of arrangement won't be voted on until April and a lot of people will want to invest elsewhere rather than wait until then.

Freightways rose 1.1 per cent to $8.50. The courier operator is often seen as an economic bellwether and ANZ economists' December Truckometer gauge indicated the local economic slowdown may have found a floor.

NZX rose 1.5 per cent to $1.34. The stock market operator's December metrics showed an increase in the volume and value of trading activity last month, and a greater amount of trading being done on the formal market.

Outside the benchmark index, Burger Fuel Group jumped 19.5 per cent to 52 cents on a typically light volume of 6,857 shares, compared to its 3,045 average. The burger franchise operator said its licensee in Iraq decided to close its final store in Baghdad due to the threat of potential war.