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Market Close: Air NZ gains, retailers slide as 2008 ends

Wednesday 31st December 2008

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Air New Zealand rose 7.8% on the final day of 2008 while retailers Michael Hill International, Pumpkin Patch and Hallenstein Glasson Holdings fell, rounding out the worst year for the benchmark since 1990.

The NZX 50 Index rose 37.488, or 1.4%, to 2715.711 in its biggest gain since Dec. 3, with 27.7 million shares changing hands. Within the index today, 31 stocks rose, 17 fell and just two were unchanged.

Air New Zealand climbed to 96 cents, the highest since early June as the price of fuel declined. Singapore jet fuel has dropped seven days in a row and is now less than a third of its July high of US$181.85 a barrel. The airline's stock has fallen 53% this year.

Michael Hill fell 7.3% to 51 cents and has dropped 18% since Dec. 16, when the jeweller said retail conditions have been "very challenging" in the second quarter, with same-store sales growth stalled in Australia and weaker in New Zealand and Canada.

Hallenstein Glasson Holdings fell 4.4% to NZ$2.15. Profit fell 26% in the year ended Aug. 1 and Chairman Warren Bell told shareholders this month that the company has a "sound" heart with enough financial strength to ride out the downturn.

Figures last week confirmed New Zealand's third quarter of economic contraction. Fletcher Building ended the day up 4.2% to NZ$5.74 and is down 52% in 2008 amid weakness in New Zealand construction activity and the ongoing U.S. residential slump.

The NZSE Construction & Building Materials Index has dropped 51% in the past 12 months, according to Reuters data. Steel & Tube Holdings, which lost long-serving CEO Nick Callavrias this year, ended the day up 3.2% to NZ$3.20. The stock is down 18% this year, outperforming the NZX 50.

Nuplex Industries, the third stock on the NZSE sub-index, rose 2% to NZ$3 today, trimming its slump this year to 57%. Last month the manufacturer of resins and ingredients used to make paint, printing ink and adhesives, cut its earnings forecast for 2008/09 by as much as $25 million, sending its stock tumbling.

Sanford Ltd., the star performer on the NZX 50 this year with a 26% gain, rose 5% to NZ$5.36 today. The company has benefited from strong prices for some fish species and the slide in the kiwi dollar since its balance date.

Some economists predict New Zealand's recession will linger on into 2009, rather than the gradual pick-up predicted by the central bank. The economic downturn coincides with the first instance since WWII that the world's largest economies - Japan, the U.S., and Europe - have headed for simultaneous recession.

"Next year will be one to batten down the hatches and hold on," said Craig Brown, who helps manage NZ$2 billion at ING New Zealand Ltd.

Tourism Holdings, the nation's largest campervan hire company, fell 1.5% to 67 cents and has tumbled 70% in 2008. Last month, chairman Keith Smith predicted "a very challenging" second half, and said annual profit will be "well below" last year's $14.3 million.


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