New Zealand shares fell as investors were unnerved by news that the coronavirus fatality rate passed that of the Sars outbreak almost two decades ago.

The S&P/NZX 50 Index dropped 58.29 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 11,702.59. Within the index, 28 stocks fell, 16 rose and six were unchanged. Turnover was $132.9 million.

China's Government today eased some restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak, although a number of workplaces remained closed and some white-collar workers worked from home.

ANZ Bank New Zealand economist Liz Kendall said investors would keep a close watch on the reopening of Chinese factories and ports.


"Whether that is achievable, and to what extent, will provide direction about the extent of ongoing disruption," she said.

New Zealand exports have already been hit by the disruption to China's economy, and local economic growth is expected to face a short-term blip.

"If the virus is contained quickly, then a vigorous bounce back in activity is expected. But a larger impact cannot be ruled out," Kendall said.

Jeremy Sullivan, an investment adviser at Hamilton Hindin Greene, said negative cues from international markets were fuelled by fears of the coronavirus outbreak causing a global slowdown, and that weighed on the local market.

"It is a bit of a buyer's strike. We are not seeing huge volumes go through, so it is not like there is panic selling or anything," he said.

In early trading, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index was down 0.1 per cent, Singapore's Hang Seng was down 0.8 per cent and Shanghai's SSEC was down 0.4 per cent.

On the NZX 50, Tourism Holdings led the market lower, down 3.3 per cent to $2.90. The stock received some relief last week after a profit warning wasn't as bad as some investors feared. However, tourism stocks remain under pressure with New Zealand still closed to Chinese visitors.

Other tourism-related stocks also fell. SkyCity Entertainment Group, which reports first half earnings tomorrow, was down 1.4 per cent at $3.57, Air New Zealand held steady at $2.80 and Auckland International Airport fell 1.1 per cent to $8.65.


Contact Energy said today that first-half operating earnings fell 21 per cent amid tight gas supplies and reduced sales volumes to the firm's commercial and industrial customers. Its shares fell 0.1 per cent to $7.22.

Other utility stocks were also weaker, Genesis Energy fell 2.3 per cent to $3.16, Meridian Energy fell 1.3 per cent to $5.45 and Mercury NZ fell 0.9 per cent to $5.25.

The coronavirus outbreak had also weighed on port operators as delays led to some contractors closing their operations.

Sullivan said forestry crews downing tools, due to coronavirus related delays, would be weighing on Port of Tauranga which exports a high quantity of logs.

Port of Tauranga, which exports a high quantity of logs, fell 2.5 per cent to $7.31 and Napier Port fell 4.14 per cent to $3.47.

Among other transport stocks, Mainfreight fell 1.6 per cent to $40.25 and Freightways rose 1.5 per cent to $8.56.


Gentrack Group posted the day's biggest gain and its fifth consecutive increase, rising 5 per cent to $2.30. The utility software developer has been under pressure since it slashed its earnings forecast in January following the loss of a large customer in the UK.

Sullivan said having Brexit done has brought some certainty to investors who are beginning to return to the stock.

"It does look like the worst may be over for them. They have bounced north of 10 per cent since that $2 dollar level at the end of January, so investors are starting to see value there." BusinessDesk