The latest company reporting season belonged to the dividend payers, while growth and cyclical stocks suffered.
If share prices were the only guide, Meridian, Mercury and Contact Energy were among the top performers over the reporting month of August.
The trouble is, their share price performances were as much to do with events around them, as with their profit and loss accounts.
"Certainly, the dividend stocks were given a bit of love over the month, although I think that was coincidental with the reporting season rather than due to it," says Matt Goodson, managing director at Salt Funds.
New Zealand bond yields went from 1.47 per cent to 1.07 per cent by the end of the month, driven down by the Reserve Bank's surprisingly sharp cut to the official cash rate. That only added to the attraction of the yield stocks — often offering returns in the 5 per cent range.
The high dividend payers in the property sector — Precinct Properties, for example — also saw a lot of buying attention.
On the flip side, the high profile growth stocks such as a2 Milk and cinema software company Vista were singled out for selling.
In a2 Milk's case, its net profit might have been up by 47 per cent, but that was still below expectations, and nor did the market take kindly to the company's move to spend more on shoring up its future growth prospects.
In Vista's case it was a straight-out miss, after the company scaled back its projections for revenue growth to 10-12 per cent and reported a 23 per cent slide in first-half profit.
"Vista clearly missed and was sold down very aggressively after what had been an extremely strong run prior, and a2 Milk missed at the earnings line," Goodson says.
"It was more about individual events in each of those companies rather than a thematic."
To prove a point, he says F&P Healthcare — also regarded as a growth stock — rallied sharply on news of a tiny increase in earnings, driven by changing exchange rates.
While some growth stocks faltered, the overall investment "flow" into that part of the market was still quite strong, Goodson says.
Analysts say most of the results unveiled last month were largely in line with expectations, or were a little softer, but that there were some large earnings downgrades for the 12 months ahead.
Looking ahead, Goodson expects the retirement village stocks — which are heavily influenced by real estate trends — to come into sharper focus, particularly with lower mortgage rates.
Among the power generators, the standout was Meridian, which posted record earnings of $838m, up 26 per cent on the previous year.
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The country's biggest electricity generator said its result reflected a record level of hydro generation in this country, and higher wholesale prices as a result of supply interruptions at the Pohokura gas field, and periods of low hydro inflows. The performance allowed the company to lift total dividends.
Telecommunications company Spark also provided a welcome surprise when, contrary to market expectations, it stuck to its guidance and kept the dividend at 25c per share.
Contact, Meridian and Mercury all had good results because hydrology went their way.
"Electricity prices were high, inflows were strong, and Meridian for example had another bumper year," says Mark Lister, head of private wealth research at Craigs Investment Partners.
Fletcher Building's result, while a welcome return to the black, was lacklustre "and Australia looks too hard".
But perhaps the season's hard luck story goes to a2 Milk, which saw its share price savaged despite a phenomenal leap in earnings.
"It is really hard to knock them when revenue is up 40 per cent and bottom-line profit is up 47 per cent, and with nearly $500m in the bank," says Lister.
"Expectations were really high. The share price had had a great run, but the market was spooked by its margin guidance."
Company earnings expectations for the years ahead are now more subdued, analysts say.
"For the most part, we have seen expectations pared back a little for the next couple of years — just a function of some of the results being a bit behind on expectations," Lister says.
"Outlook statements were really key. It does feel like businesses are seeing a bit of a slowdown in both the local economy and from the likes of Freightways and others."
The US stock market took a hit this week after the Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index fell 2.1 points to 49.1 last month as the US-China trade war began to bite. It was the first time since August 2016 that the index had dropped through the important 50-point threshold.
Domestically, Lister says it looks as though revenue is softening while cost pressures are creeping up.
"Not all companies are raising prices because of that uncertainty, but they are seeing costs creep up a little bit.
Higher import prices because of the sharply weaker New Zealand dollar could also become more important.
In the big picture, Lister says investors have some major issues to weigh up.
Among them are declines in manufacturing around the world, the US-China trade tensions, Britain's potential exit from the EU, Argentina's sovereign debt mountain and negative growth in the German economy, to name only a few issues.
But as long as low interest rates support equities, the dividend yield story will remain paramount for stocks here and in other markets.
"Those yield stocks will remain hugely in vogue because of that interest rate dynamic."
How the biggest NZX companies performed:
Ebitdaf: $838 million, up 26 per cent
Dividend: 21.3c, up 11 per cent
Verdict: Another record profit
Higher power prices and generation volumes and a growing customer book in Australia saw Meridian report record full-year earnings. This enabled the company to lift total dividends to the government and shareholders by 11 per cent.
Auckland International Airport
Ebitdafi: $554.8m, up 9.6 per cent
Dividend: 22.25c, up 2.3 per cent
Verdict: Steady as she goes
Auckland International Airport reported a 4.4 per cent lift in its underlying profit after another record year for traveller numbers. Guidance for the year ahead was in line with the previous year, reflecting softening passenger growth, modest growth in operating expenses and an increase in infrastructure construction.
The a2 Milk Co
Ebitda: $413.6m, up 46.1 per cent
Verdict: Underwhelmed the market
Surging sales in the huge China infant formula market and a 47 per cent jump in net profit were not enough for some investors, who hammered the stock as forecast ebitda margins came in below expectations.
F&P Healthcare (Earnings upgrade)
The medical device company, which has a March 31 balance date and was not reporting last month, upgraded its earnings guidance after gaining benefits from a weakening kiwi dollar against the US dollar. Operating revenue for the six months to September 30 is tipped to be $560m, with net profit after tax of $120m.
Ebitdai: $1.09 billion, up 5.8 per cent (adjusted for restructuring costs)
Dividend: 25c, no change
Verdict: Positive, market approval
Spark is already starting to reap the gains from its Quantum programme, reducing labour costs by $82m to $499m. It anticipates further gains. Earnings guidance was flat, but the stock is outpacing the index.
Ebitdaf: $505m, down 11 per cent
Dividend: 15.5c, up 2.6 per cent
Verdict: Solid, given the conditions
Operating earnings fell less than expected, influenced by lower hydro generation and only eight months of earnings from its Metrix metering business, which has been sold. Net profit climbed 53 per cent to $357m. Investing in growth.
Ebitdaf: $505m, up 12 per cent
Dividend: 39c, no change
Verdict: Can't complain
While retail margins remain "under pressure", Contact said it had gained 4200 customers during the six months to the end of June. The company's stock is up by more than 40 per cent so far this year.
Port of Tauranga
Ebitda: $168.6m, up 12.4 per cent
Dividend: 13.3c, up 4.7 per cent
Verdict: Another solid result
Group profit cracked $100m for the first time in the 2019 financial year, with shareholders set to enjoy the bounty through an extension to the capital repayment programme. Group net profit was 6.7 per cent up on the previous year at $100.6m.
Mainfreight (March 31 Balance date)
Ebitda: $257.1m, up 19.5 per cent
Dividend: 56c, up 24.4 per cent
Verdict: Keeps on trucking
Back in May, Mainfreight reported its best ever financial result, notably plumped by all five of its international regions. Of the $42m increase in Ebitda, $30m came from outside of New Zealand.
Ebitda: $250.4m, up 0.1 per cent
Dividend: 71.5c, up 4.4 per cent
Verdict: Flat this year but strong guidance
After another year of acquisition (Ebos spent $93.6m on new business in 2019), the group says it has set a foundation for its next wave of growth. Ebos is promising a "significant increase" in earnings this year.
Ebit: $631m, up $581m
Dividend: 23c, up from zero
Verdict: Still unloved
Fletcher Building returned to profit and to paying dividends after the first year of its five-year turnaround strategy. However, the company is facing continued margin pressure and scepticism about whether it can turn around its Australian operations
Air New Zealand
Ebit: $374m, down 31 per cent
Dividend: 22c, no change
Verdict: A bit bumpy
Air New Zealand saw tax-paid profit fall 31 per cent thanks to the combined impact of sharply higher jet fuel costs, weakening global markets for air travel and the one-off costs associated with the recall of Rolls-Royce engines from its Boeing 787-Dreamliners. Now focusing on costs while searching for a new CEO.
Infratil (March 31 balance date)
Ebitdaf: $539.5m, down 1.3 per cent
Dividend: 17.25c, up 2.3 per cent
Verdict: Asset values rise, so too management fees
The value of three of Infratil's businesses -- Canberra Data Centres, Longroad Energy and Tilt Renewables -- has roughly tripled since last September. That also means an increase in the incentive fees owed to Infratil's manager, Morrison & Co.
Goodman Property Trust (March 31 balance date)
Net profit: $319.5m, up 65 per cent
Verdict: No surprises
The trust has performed particularly well for investors and its latest 64.7 per cent increase in annual net profit to $319.5m included a record $201.9m increase in the value of its properties to $2.6b, up from an $83.8m increase the previous year.
SkyCity Entertainment Group
Normalised profit:* $173m, up 1.6 per cent
Dividend: 20c, no change
Verdict: Holding its chips
SkyCity is flush with cash, having sold its Darwin property for $188m, its Auckland underground carparks for $220m and a Federal St carpark near its headquarters, so it is returning money to shareholders via a share buyback.
Z Energy (March 31 balance date)
Underlying net profit: $178m, down 13 per cent
Dividend: 43c, up 33 per cent
Verdict: Under the pump
In early May, Z Energy reported a lower profit, as higher fuel prices prompted people to avoid the pump and the lengthy shutdown of the Marsden Point refinery reduced oil margins. The focus is on competition following the Commerce Commission's draft report into petrol prices.
Precinct Property Group
Underlying profit: $79.4m, up 3.7 per cent
Dividend: 6c, up 3.4 per cent
Verdict: Commercial reality
Leasing at Precinct's $1b, 39-level Commercial Bay has risen to 95 per cent for the shops and pre-leasing for the offices is now at 82 per cent, according to chief executive Scott Pritchard. No date change was announced for the offices or shops, due to open in April and March next year.
Net Profit After Tax: $138.1m, up 15 per cent
Dividend: 6.95c, up 1 per cent
Verdict: Higher valuations drive profit
Kiwi is intensifying its large landholdings by developing mixed-use communities, growing income from existing assets and establishing a team to investigate funds management opportunities.
Ebitda: $636m, down 3 per cent
Dividend: 23c, up 5 per cent
Verdict: Ho hum
Chorus reported a drop in full-year profit, as expected, due to increased interest costs of borrowing to fund the ultra-fast broadband rollout. The company also announced the surprise departure of its boss, Kate McKenzie.
Ebit: Earnings before interest and tax
Ebitda: Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation
Ebitdai: Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortisation and investments in associates
Ebitdaf: Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortisation and fair value adjustments
Ebitdafi: Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortisation, fair value adjustments and investments in associates
*SkyCity uses the "normalised" figure to adjust for the theoretical "win rate" in its international gambling business.