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MARKET CLOSE: Deadly quake pushes weak NZ market lower

Tuesday 22nd February 2011

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A devastating earthquake in Christchurch this afternoon helped push an already weak New Zealand sharemarket to a two-week low.

The 6.3 magnitude earthquake just before 1pm killed at least 17 people, left many others injured and caused widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure.

The Pyne Gould Corporation's building collapsed with at least 30 people reported trapped inside, while the spire of the city's iconic cathedral in the central square was sliced off and the rest of the building badly damaged.

"Certainly this afternoon people have not been thinking about the market at all," said James Porteous of Craigs Investment Partners.

"There's been a bit of activity in the FX (foreign exchange) market, but most of the equities market people have been pretty well distracted with this."

The NZX-50 index closed down 23.2 points, or 0.7%, at 3358.7, adding to yesterday's 30-point loss.

Overseas markets were also weak after oil prices charged to fresh 2-1/2 year highs on the back of increasing violence in major producer Libya.

Fletcher Building (NZX: FBU ) was one of just five top-50 stocks to close higher today, rising 18c, or 2.2%, to $8.48. Its Christchurch businesses were damaged, but the market was eyeing the increased work potential for the building supplies and construction stock that is already taking a significant role in rebuilding the region after last September's quake.

Also higher were Steel & Tube (NZX: STU ), up 6c at $2.56, carpetmaker Cavalier (NZX: CAV ), up 2c at $3.30, Guinness Peat Group (NZX: GPG ), up a cent at 74, and dual-listed Telstra (NZX: TLS ), 2c higher at $3.94.

Contact Energy (NZX: CEN ) fell 8c to $6.11 after reporting half-year underlying after-tax earnings barely changed from a year earlier, while revenue rose 12%.

Contact is also funding work on its $623 million Te Mihi geothermal project, near Taupo, through a combination of debt and equity. A pro rata renounceable rights issue will be launched in the near term, with Contact's 52% shareholder Origin Energy to subscribe for its share.

Telecom (NZX: TEL ) fell 4c to $2.16, Auckland Airport (NZX: AIA ) fell a cent to $2.25, Sky City (NZX: SKC ) was down a cent at $3.29, Sky TV (NZX: SKT ) lost 6c to $5.39, and Infratil (NZX: IFT ) fell 2c to $1.92.

Diligent Boardbooks (NZX: DIL ) gained 4c to 85 after reporting a 66% rise in revenue in 2010, with total annualised licence fee income up 59%.

The Warehouse (NZX: WHS ) fell 5c to $3.46, Tower (NZX: TWR ) was down 9c at $1.90, Ebos (NZX: EBO ) lost 9c to $7.50, and Air New Zealand (NZX: AIR ) fell 4c to $1.35.

Across the Tasman, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index was down 0.9% at 4857.

United States markets were closed for a holiday overnight, while in Europe equities lost more than 1% on a combination of uncertainty over the future of the oil price, increasing signs that higher interest rates may be coming and more evidence of a surprisingly poor earnings season.



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