New Zealand shares were mixed as defensive stocks such as Spark New Zealand insulated the wider market from a new wave of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.
The S&P/NZX 50 Index decreased 10.86 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 11,665.65. Within the index, 24 stocks rose, 21 fell and 5 were unchanged. Turnover was $498.8 million, due to the sell-down of Oceania Healthcare's cornerstone shareholder.
Indices in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia all fell. The Hang Seng was down 1.7 per cent in afternoon trading and the S&P/ASX 200 Index fell 0.4 per cent. The mainland Chinese markets in Shanghai and Shenzhen are closed until February 3.
Matthew Goodson, managing director at Salt Funds Management, said the local market was following broader weakness across Asian markets.
"Coronavirus fears just raising their heads a little again, Asian markets are down between 1.5 and 3 per cent which has headed over to Australia to a moderate degree and New Zealand to a lesser degree again," he said.
Stocks with exposure to China returned to their negative trend.
SkyCity Entertainment Group fell 2.6 per cent to $3.69 on a volume of 706,000 shares, A2 Milk Company fell 2 per cent to $15.30 on a volume of 1 million shares, Air New Zealand fell 1.8 per cent to $2.76 on a volume of 876,000, Auckland International Airport fell 0.8 per cent to $8.55 on a volume of 1.8 million shares.
Tourism Holdings bucked the trend, climbing 0.4 per cent to $2.86 on a volume of 454,000 shares.
Goodson said investors are still watching the infection rate, which has now exceeded the 2002 SARS outbreak.
"The experience from SARS was that the market bottomed out once the number of new infections peaked, and we are not at that point yet," he said.
"US futures are a little weak, we'll have to see if this is a storm in a teacup. If the infections peak it will be, but it may be more lingering."
Goodson said the NZX50 held up well, compared to its regional counterparts due to demand for defensive stocks such as Spark, which rose 1.7 per cent to $4.625 on a volume of 3.5 million shares.
Other defensive stocks also performed, Goodman Property Trust rose 0.9 per cent to $2.325 on a volume of 1 million shares, Meridian Energy rose 0.6 per cent to $5.26 on a volume of 2.4 million shares, and Contact Energy which rose 0.3 per cent to $7.44 on a volume of 1.3 million shares.
Oceania Healthcare drove up trading volume today after cornerstone shareholder Macquarie Group sold its 41 per cent stake in the company to a mix of institutional and retail investors. The 251 million shares were sold for $1.20 a share in an underwritten sale, a 4 per cent discount to the previous close of $1.25 on the NZX. The shares fell 2.4 per cent to $1.22 when trading resumed today as 262 million shares changed hands.
Gentrack Group posted the day's biggest loss, falling 5.1 per cent to $2.06 on a volume of 76,000 shares. The utility-software company's share price has been in trouble after losing two big clients from the UK utilities market.
Infratil lost some of yesterday's gains, falling 1.6 per cent to $5.45 on a volume of 374,000 shares.
Outside the NZX50, Livestock Improvement Corp rose 9.3 per cent to 82 cents on a volume of 61,000 shares, after affirming their annual earnings guidance.
Of other stocks trading on volumes of more than a million shares, Metlifecare rose 0.2 per cent to $6.88, Precinct Properties New Zealand fell 0.5 per cent to $1.875, Fletcher Building which rose 0.9 per cent to $5.65, and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare which rose 1.1 per cent to $22.60.