New Zealand shares were led lower by Synlait Milk after the dairy company slashed its earnings outlook, citing a weak infant formula market and the risk posed by the covid-19 outbreak to its supply chain.

The S&P/NZX 50 Index declined 17.40 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 11,880.84. Within the index, 21 stocks fell, 24 gained, and five were unchanged. Turnover was $167.1 million.

Synlait Milk fell as low as $6.70, and ended the day down 18 per cent at $6.80 on a volume on 1.2 million shares, more than 10 times its 90-day average. The milk processor said first-half net profit was down by roughly $10m, and it lowered its annual outlook to a flat profit at best. Synlait had previously predicted profit growth to at least match the 10 per cent growth it achieved in 2019.

Brad Gordon, investment adviser for Hobson Wealth Partners, said while the shares have fallen hard, "it has traded very expensive to its assets base and it's probably now coming back towards a more realistic level."


A2 Milk, which counts Synlait as its major supplier, shrugged off the slump, saying its performance was strong. Its shares were unchanged at $15.80.

Rubber manufacturer Skellerup Holdings fell 3 per cent to $2.27. The company, which supplies products to the dairy industry, reported a 10 per cent decline in first-half profit.

Grant Davies, an investment adviser at Hamilton Hindin Greene, said result was weaker than expected in a market that was already nervous about the covid-19 outbreak.

"They are not saying there are any problems with the virus, but any issues in the company at the moment is probably enough for some people to head for the exit," he said.

Power companies were also softer. Meridian Energy fell 2.1 per cent to $5.64 on a below average volume of 1.5 million shares, Mercury NZ fell 1.7 per cent to $5.35, Trustpower fell 0.8 per cent to $7.34.

"Meridian Energy has climbed 10 per cent in the last week, so going back a couple of percent isn't really a surprise," Davies said.

Sky Network Television recovered from yesterday's record low to post the day's biggest gain, up 5 per cent at 63 cents. The media group reported a 78 per cent slide in first-half profit yesterday, although it also slowed its satellite subscriber losses and gained streaming customers.

Davies said it was encouraging to see the embattled media company recover some ground, but warned the stock is volatile.


"Sky Television moves around quite a bit at the moment, but does seems to have found a floor at 60 cents for the time being," he said.

SkyCity Entertainment Group rose 2.2 per cent to $3.67, trimming its 12-month loss to around 4 per cent. The company reported a 7.9 per cent decline in underlying earnings today, although the result was overshadowed by its insurance claim for the international convention centre fire.

Throughout most of January, the casino operator's shares traded around $4, however the stock has been sold off aggressively due to fears the coronavirus outbreak would reduce the number of tourists visiting their casinos.

Davies said the reasonable half-year result and full year outlook was enough for the share price to recover some lost ground.

Stock market operator NZX rose 3.6 per cent to $1.43, the stock has risen 40 percent in the last 12 months.

Davies said would be an interesting update tomorrow when NZX reports its annual result, because there were factors both for and against the stock.

"There is a fairly buoyant market helping them along in terms of trading and decent amount of bonds being issued. But on the other side of that, not a heck of a lot in terms of new listings of companies," he said.