New Zealand shares continued their march in uncharted territory as utilities such as Contact Energy and Meridian recovered some investor support.
The S&P/NZX 50 Index rose 61.19 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 11,737.86. Within the index, 23 stocks rose, 18 fell, and nine were unchanged. Turnover was $158.3 million.
New Zealand, Australian, and Vietnamese stock markets were the strongest across Asia as investors digested the impact of the formal signing of the first tranche of a US-China trade deal.
Local exporters were among the day's gainers, with Fisher & Paykel Healthcare up 1.9 per cent at $22.64, A2 Milk rising 1.7 per cent to $14.80, and Fonterra Shareholders' Fund units advancing 0.8 per cent to $4.05.
Matt Goodson, managing director at Salt Funds Management, said the deal appeared somewhat underwhelming, and that a drop in soybean prices raised questions about Chinese commitments to buy more agricultural products.
"It seems the commitments from China to purchase are somewhat unclear. Although given the devastation of to their pig population to the disease there, they would appear to be trying to buy every form of protein that they can," Goodson said.
Contact led the market higher, up 2.9 per cent at $7.55 on a volume of 462,000 shares, less than its 90-day average of 1.2 million. Meridian rose 1 per cent to $5.21 with 1.4 million shares traded.
Meridian's December update yesterday showed strong hydro inflows in the South Island and increased national electricity demand.
Shane Solly, a portfolio manager at Harbour Asset Management, said the updates were quite good and helped allay some investor concerns over the future of Tiwai Point smelter.
Rio Tinto, which controls the smelter, is lobbying for cheaper electricity and transmission prices, and has threatened to close the plant if it can't get relief. Rival Alcoa said overnight that Australia has one of the highest energy price markets in the world, and is lobbying Australian governments for support for its unprofitable Portland smelter in Victoria.
Goodson said there was some talk in the market that investors are more confident a deal will be reached to keep the Tiwai Point smelter operating.
"Whether that crystallises, we'll just have to wait and see," he said.
Genesis Energy increased 0.2 per cent to $3.24 and Mercury NZ was unchanged at $5.25.
Gentrack dropped 8.7 per cent to $2.64, with 167,000 shares traded. The utilities software firm shed more than a quarter of its value yesterday when it warned that trading conditions were even worse than it thought and that a major customer pulled out of a planned deployment.
Greg Smith, head of research at Fat Prophets, said investors had run out of patience with the company after its multiple earnings downgrades last year.
"With markets buoyant and many companies doing well still, investors in no mood for perennial disappointers," he said.
Metlifecare was the most traded stock on a volume of 8.5 million shares, compared to its 628,000 average. The stock was unchanged at $6.88, below its $7 takeover offer price.
Among other stocks trading on volumes of more than a million, Spark New Zealand rose 0.6 per cent to $4.53, Precinct Properties New Zealand fell 0.5 per cent to $1.87 and Auckland International Airport decreased 0.1 per cent to $9.07.
Investore Property increased 0.6 per cent to $1.80. Shareholders today overwhelmingly approved a deal to buy three properties from its manager Stride Properties. Stride shares were unchanged at $2.31.