NZX50 hits record; buoyed by business confidence, M&A

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The S&P/NZX 50 Index hit a record as investor sentiment was buoyed by a recovery in the latest business confidence survey and a better than expected earnings season, and a growing appetite among private equity buyers to pursue mergers and acquisitions.

The benchmark index rose a high as 11,273.22, and ended the session at 11,207.29, up 86.48 points, or 0.8 per cent. Within the index, 31 stocks rose, nine fell and 10 were unchanged. Turnover was $108.4 million.

Firms’ expectations for both the general economy and their own trading improved in ANZ’s November business outlook, the latest piece of data that has been better than economists’ expectations. ASB Bank economists pared back their expectations for interest rate cuts on the news, and now anticipate just one reduction in 2020 rather than the two previously forecast.

Investor sentiment was already elevated with a number of solid results in the September and March balance date reporting season. That received another tailwind as cashed-up overseas buyers have shown renewed interest in listed companies across Australia and New Zealand, such as Canada’s Alimentation Couche-Tard bid for Caltex Australia.

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Fishing group Sanford led the market higher, up 3.4 per cent at $7.65 on a volume of just 11,000, well down on its 90-day average of 176,000. The company reported a small decline in annual profit earlier this month, overcoming a voluntary reduction in its hoki take to help maintain stocks, and also the mooring of a deepwater vessel for three months.

Shane Solly, a portfolio manager at Harbour Asset Management, said that was an example of how investors were reviewing the reporting season.

“They’re digesting what was an okay result against what could have been a very tough result,” he said

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, which reported a 24 per cent lift in first-half earnings yesterday, was up 1.9 per cent at $21.51. It hit an all-time high of $21.77 today.

The improvement in the business confidence survey helped in terms of the way investors looked at New Zealand equities heading into the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, which will see quieter global markets over the next few days, while heightened M&A activity reminded people there was good demand for businesses.

Z Energy got a boost yesterday when the Caltex Australia bid emerged, and gave up some of those gains today falling 0.4 per cent to $5.15 on a volume of 1.8 million. Investors are also awaiting the outcome of next week’s Commerce Commission report into the fuels market.

Metlifecare is currently engaged with an unnamed, but credible, buyer. It slipped 0.3 per cent to $5.84.

Outside the benchmark index, Smartpay soared 85 per cent to 51 cents after saying VeriFone had agreed to buy its New Zealand assets for $70m. Similarly, Rakon was up 7.7 per cent at 28 cents after a report in the Australian Financial Review’s Street Talk column speculated private equity firm Anchorage Capital was kicking the tyres at the firm.

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Fletcher Building fell 1.3 per cent to $5.17 after issuing its 2020 earnings guidance with a small downside bias. Solly said the very wide range indicated there was still a lot of uncertainty for the construction company. Fletcher posted the biggest decline on the day, with 938,000 shares changing hands.

Gentrack was unchanged at $4.15 after reporting an annual loss and 20 percent decline in underlying earnings, having written off the value of a 2017 acquisition, and as it contended with a changing regulatory landscape in the UK. The shares dropped to a two-and-a-half year low last week when it downgraded its guidance for a third time.

Meridian Energy was the most traded stock on a volume of 2.1 million. It rose 1 per cent to $4.525. Of other stocks trading on volumes of more than a million shares, Kiwi Property Group was up 1.6 per cent at $1.585, Contact Energy rose 0.7 per cent to $7.06, Chorus advanced 1.9 per cent to $5.77, and Goodman Property Trust increased 1.2 per cent to $2.135.

Scott Technology rose 2.7 per cent to $2.30. The company announced that chief executive Chris Hopkins was stepping down from that role, effective from tomorrow, but would stay on the executive team. He told shareholders at today’s annual meeting that after 13 years as CEO and managing director he needed to step back.

QEX Logistics rose 9.6 per cent to 80 cents. It reported a 51 per cent decline in first-half earnings as margins were squeezed, but said the second half is shaping up to be stronger.

Moa Group was unchanged at 31 cents after reporting positive first-half earnings with the acquisition of the Savour Group hospitality chain.