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MARKET CLOSE: NZX 50 reaches 19-month high; WBC, Telstra, FBU rise

Wednesday 14th April 2010

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New Zealand’s NZX 50 Index rose to a 19-month high after Intel Corp.’s second-quarter forecast beat estimates, stoking optimism as the US, earnings season gets underway. Westpac Banking led a rally in Australian companies on the NZX after Australian consumer confidence held near a three-year high.

The NZX 50 Index jumped 25.579, or 0.8%, to 3335.513, the highest close since September 2008. Within the index, 23 stocks rose, 14 fell and 13 were unchanged. Turnover was $61 million.

Shares gained across most of Asia, with Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index climbing 0.4% and Singapore’s Straits Times Index rising 1.1% and South Korea’s Kospi gaining 1.2%.  Helping lift sentiment, Intel forecast a gross margin of 64% for the second quarter, beating analyst estimates of 60%.

Meantime in Asia, South Korea reported a drop in its jobless rate and Singapore raised its forecast for economic growth. Australia’s S&P/ASX 20 Index rose 0.9% after the Westpac/Melbourne sentiment index showed consumer confidence held at 116.1 points this month, having surged by about a quarter in the past 12 months.

Westpac gained 3.7% to $36.80, pacing gains in lenders on the ASX after the consumer survey. Australia & New Zealand Banking Group rose 1.4% to $33.50.

Telstra rose 3.5% to $4.18 after Australia’s biggest phone company scotched a newspaper report that it had completed talks to sell its fixed line assets to the federal government for A$9.75 billion.

Fletcher Building advanced 2.1% to 8.45 and fishing company Sanford rose 2.5% to $4.56.

Telecom rose 1.8% to $2.24 after naming Kieran Cooney, a former Vodafone executive, to take over its mobile operations, which includes the problematic XT network. He replaces Paul Hamburger, one of three senior executives to depart in recent months.

Warehouse Group gained 1.6% to $3.89, shrugging off government figures that showed retail sales unexpectedly fell in February, suggesting the sector has yet to revive.

Hallenstein Glasson Holdings, the clothing chain, climbed 1.5% to $3.50 and children’s clothing retailer Pumpkin Patch rose 1.4% to $2.22.

Nuplex Industries fell 2% to $3.40, pacing declining shares on the benchmark index after saying it was “very disappointed” that the Securities Commission has decided to prosecute the specialty chemicals company under the Securities Act and NZX rules for failing to disclose breaches of banking covenants last year. As a result of the lawsuit, Nuplex director David Jackson has resigned from the commission.

Steel & Tube Holdings, which sells steel building supplies, fell 3.6% to $2.70, the biggest decliner on the NZX 50.

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