New Zealand shares reversed an earlier gain as Asian markets were sold off amid growing fears of a confrontation between the United States and China.

The S&P/NZX 50 Index fell 192.50 points, or 1.7 per cent, to 10,856.69. Within the index, 34 stocks fell, 13 rose, and three remained unchanged. Turnover was $206.9 million.

Investor unease regarding geopolitical tension caused Asian markets to fall, cutting short an early rise on the local benchmark. The NZX50 was trading up 0.3 per cent until midday when markets across Asia started to open weaker.

"Asian markets more broadly are being sold off today and New Zealand has followed that momentum throughout the day," said Grant Davies, an investment adviser at Hamilton Hindin Greene.


The standoff between the US and China over Hong Kong pushed the Hang Seng index down 1.8 per cent in afternoon trading, while indices on the Chinese mainland were down around 0.4 per cent. The gloomier sentiment also weighed on Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index, which pared its gain from a 2.5 per cent increase to a more modest 1.3 per cent in late trading.

Sky Network Television led the New Zealand market lower, dropping 15.6 per cent to 14.6 cents with an unusually large volume of 17.2 million shares changing hands. The pay-TV operator is in the process of raising $37.8m at 12 cents per share from retail investors as part of a $157m capital raising.

"I imagine there are a few investors selling so they can take up their rights at 12 cents," Davies said.

"There could be a few underwriters getting a bit nervous if this negative momentum continues."

Seafood company Sanford fell 7.9 per cent to $6.80 after it reported icy conditions off the coast of Antarctica had caused an 8 per cent drop in wild catch sales volumes. This contributed to a $5m hit to half-year earnings and prompted the board to lower the dividend to 5 cents per share from 9 cents a year earlier.

Goodman Property Trust fell 4.4 per cent to $2.20 after its annual result failed to meet the expectations of investors who had priced the stock for perfection, Davies said.

"They have been a solid performer throughout the whole pandemic lockdown, defying gravity to an extent, so while the result was pretty good there is still a little bit of selling," Davies said.

The company still forecasts earnings in line with the prior year but the payout to investors will be reduced due to a lower distribution policy and more shares on the register.


Fisher & Paykel Healthcare declined 4.4 per cent to $29.45, falling in tandem with its Australian rival ResMed.

Davies said the stocks that were being sold off today were generally companies that had held up well throughout the pandemic and lockdown.

Chorus fell 4.3 per cent to $7.20, Infratil slipped 2.6 per cent to $4.82, Contact Energy decreased 2.5 per cent to $6.25 and Spark New Zealand was down 1.3 per cent at $4.43.

Synlait Milk dropped 1.8 per cent to $7.12 after it lowered its forecast milk pay-out for the season due to weaker dairy prices and Covid-19 outbreak threatening demand. Dairy prices have fallen around 14 per cent since the first Global Dairy Trade auction this year.

A2 Milk fell 1.8 per cent to $18.60, while Fonterra Shareholder Fund units increased 0.6 per cent to $3.63.

Restaurant Brands slipped 0.8 per cent to $12.90. The group today told investors the national shutdown had cost the group $15m in lost earnings and would result in a profit downgrade in the current financial year.


Tourism Holdings posted the day's biggest gain, rising 11.6 per cent to $1.73 on the likelihood of the trans-Tasman bubble being open by July.

Outside the NZX50, honey producer Comvita announced a $50m capital raise at $2.50 per share, a 34.4 per cent discount from $3.81 traded at market close yesterday. The company is benefiting from a surge in demand for natural health products.

Probiotic company Blis Technologies is also riding the health wave, booking a net profit of $1.6m, a 320 per cent rise from the prior year. Its share price rose 2.3 per cent to 8.8 cents.