New Zealand shares rose as the resilient local market provided an attractive harbour for investors anxious about the spread of coronavirus in China. Defensive stocks such as utilities and property companies led the gain.

The S&P/NZX 50 Index rose 58.19 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 11,805.14. Within the index, 21 stocks rose, 24 fell and five were unchanged. Turnover was $142.1 million.

Markets across Asia took a cautionary tone today as increased fears of the coronavirus reaching epidemic proportions after the World Health Organisation called an emergency meeting. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was down 2.3 per cent in afternoon trading, and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index declined 0.4 per cent.

Stephen Innes, chief market strategist at AxiCorp said the markets had underestimated the potential impact of an epidemic on the global economy.

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"It's an essential enough development that that market will continue to monitor on the risk radar as if things turn critical; it could provide a massive blow to the airline industry and a knockout punch to local tourism," he said in a note.

New Zealand's stock market bucked the trend, with its strong cohort of companies paying reliable dividends attractive to investors at a time of elevated risk.

"New Zealand generally is a more resilient, more defensive market than others because of the number of property stocks, infrastructure stocks and utility stocks that tend to be more stable than what you get in some other markets around the world," said Mark Lister, head of private wealth research at Craigs Investment Partners.

Contact Energy rose 2.7 per cent to $7.55 on a volume of 712,000, Infratil increased 1.3 per cent to $5.40, Meridian Energy was up 2.8 per cent at $5.39 with 1.2 million shares traded and Property for Industry advanced 1.8 per cent to $2.55.

Auckland International Airport fell 2.1 per cent to $8.92 on a volume of 654,000. Matt Goodson, director at Salt Funds Management, said the airport's passenger numbers had been tracking lower for some time, and that had been weighing on the stock.

"Clearly traffic numbers have been a bit disappointing, even prior to the coronavirus outbreak, and there is certainly a sense that some of the earnings forecasts may need downgrading given recent weakness in numbers," he said.

Gentrack posted the biggest fall on the day, down 3 per cent at $2.28. The stock has shed more than 40 per cent over the past week since it signalled a weaker earnings outlook.

Kathmandu dropped 2.5 per cent to $3.16 on a volume of 949,000, extending its decline after yesterday's news that rival Macpac had weak sales through the Christmas period due to the Australian bushfires.

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Fletcher Building rose 2 per cent to $5.49. Fletcher's planned 480-house development at the disputed Ihumatao site in Auckland has been on hold since July. Protestors occupying the site today said a deal was close to being reached.

Sanford decreased 0.7 per cent to $8.04. The seafood company today pleaded guilty in the Invercargill District Court to three charges of fishing in a protected seabed area. The company said the incident was a mistake and it has supported investigators in their inquiries.

Metlifecare was the most traded stock for the day with a volume of 8 million shares, more than 10 times its 90-day average of 767,000. The shares fell 0.2 per cent to $6.87, still below the $7 takeover price.

Among other stocks trading on volumes of more than a million shares, Genesis Energy slipped 0.3 per cent to $3.21, Goodman Property Trust declined 0.2 per cent to $2.27, Kiwi Property Group was down 0.6 per cent at $1.57, and Spark New Zealand increased 0.7 per cent to $4.55.

Outside the benchmark index, Paysauce dropped 11.5 per cent to 85 cents after the payroll software firm said it plans to raise $5.8m in a discounted rights issue, selling shares at 34 cents per share. It will also require $1.5m of convertible notes to convert to about $2.1m of shares. The funds raised will help expand its domestic presence.