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MARKET CLOSE: NZ shares at fresh record as Trade Me, A2, Meridian gain on earnings; Fletcher drops

Wednesday 22nd August 2018

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New Zealand shares hit another record amidst a slew of earnings, with Trade Me Group and A2 Milk Co gaining on their annual accounts while Fletcher Building dropped.

The S&P/NZX50 Index rose 46.83 points, or 0.5 percent, to 9,162.61. Within the index, 28 stocks rose, 17 fell and five were unchanged. Turnover was $140 million.

Trade Me Group rose 6.2 percent to $5. The online auction company is distributing $100 million via a 22 cents per share special dividend. It turned over more than $250 million for the first time to deliver a 3.9 percent increase in net profit for the year to June 30 of $96.6 million.

"It surprised a little bit on the quantum and timing of its capital return - the result itself looked to be pretty much in line with expectations," said James Lindsay, senior portfolio manager at Nikko Asset Management. "It gives a signal the board isn't so concerned and doesn't feel they need to reinvest hugely into the business any more than they currently are."

A2 Milk jumped 6.1 percent to $11.81. The milk marketer more than doubled net profit to $195.7 million in the June 2018 year, as it widened margins and increased infant formula sales. 

Revenue rose 68 percent to $922.7 million and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation also more than doubled to $283 million. A2 already gave that revenue figure last month, just beating its $900 million-to-$920 million forecast from May. At the time it said ebitda was about 30 percent of sales, implying a figure of about $277 million. 

"It was a minor beat on the revenue and earnings line, which has helped the performance of the stock," Lindsay said.  "It's probably a bit of a relief rally as well - it has been growing so fast that people have been worried and they've had the change in labelling et cetera. There has been some concern in the market it had the potential to disappoint and it's proven people wrong."

Despite those results, the best performing stock today was Pushpay Holdings, up 10.3 percent to $3.76. The stock had dropped 18 percent since Aug. 1, when the company delivered first-quarter revenue within guidance and reshuffled its senior management after another abrupt executive exit.

Lindsay said the stock was benefiting from a positive research note by a broking house, and was coming off a "bad few weeks."

Meridian Energy gained 1.1 percent to $3.285. New Zealand’s biggest power generator reported a slight lift in full-year earnings to $201 million despite weak hydro conditions for much of the period.

Chief executive Neal Barclay said the result reflected a recovery in the firm’s hydro storage in the final quarter of the year and good management throughout the firm’s toughest year for generation since 2013. The company also signalled it may return $250 million to investors over two years once the current capital management programme ends in 2020. 

"It was a solid result, hydrology is the principal driver of all the gen-retailers," Lindsay said. "They have extended out the capital management programme a couple of years, likely on the basis things are performing pretty well for them and confidence around the Tiwai smelter." 

Fletcher Building was the worst performer on the index, down 5.7 percent to $6.51, a three-month low. The construction company reported a net loss of $190 million for the 12 months to June 30, from a profit of $94 million in the prior year.

Operating earnings before significant items - excluding Building + Interiors - were $710 million, within the $680 million to $720 million range the company forecast. 

"Operationally it looked to be a pretty poor number if you looked through the divisions: while some business lines are seeing some growth, certainly from a cost perspective they are really struggling in the pricing environment," Lindsay said. "It's quite widely owned by Australians and I think the sheer weakness in the operational result will have come as a bit of surprise."

Mercury NZ dropped 3.1 percent to $3.30, Australia and New Zealand Banking Corp fell 1.9 percent to $32.03, and Westpac Banking Corp declined 1.7 percent to $31.96.

Spark New Zealand fell 0.8 percent to $3.95. The country's biggest telecommunications company posted a 7.9 percent decline in annual profit to $385 million as it booked restructuring costs on its efforts to become the lowest cost operator. 


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