Market close: NZX slumps despite transtasman bubble news

The New Zealand sharemarket shrugged off positive news from the US Federal Reserve and hints about a transtasman bubble to close down today.

The S&P/NZX50 index dropped 126 points or 1.17 per cent to close at 12,496.

Heavyweight power company Meridian was down 27c or 4.71 per cent to $5.46. Contact Energy was off 14c or 2.01 per cent to $6.83 and A2 Milk was down 26c or 2.78 per cent to $9.10.

There hadn’t been any big single driver for the drop, said Forsyth Barr broker David Price.

After a few strong days there appeared to be some profit-taking although trading volumes were relatively thin, he said.

For example blue chip stock Mainfreight was off $1.35 or 2.02 per cent to $65.50 on a volume of just 53,000 sharesand 1144 trades.

“So the numbers on some of the stocks are small.”

Meanwhile, it was a relatively strong day for so-called “opening trade” – investment in stocks that will benefit as the world reopens after the pandemic.

Auckland Airport was up 16c to 7.76c, Tourism Holdings rose 10 to $2.60and Air New Zealand was up 10c to $1.81.

Government hints about the prospect of a transtasman bubble opening in April had driven interest in those shares, Price said.

It is understood Cabinet ministers will discuss a transtasman travel bubble with Australia on Monday with a view to mid to late April as a potential start date.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has indicated a bubble would be at least three weeks away because airports and airlines would need time to set up the necessary systems.

“Auckland Airport would be a huge beneficiary of a transtasman bubble,” Price said.

“Whereas Air New Zealand will be, but not to the same extent. The real cream on the cake for them is basically international and that is quite some time away.”

Cinema management software company Vista also saw some gains onoptimism globally about a return to some form of normal life.

It had a very good day on relatively strong volume, rising 17c to $2.20.

There were certain stocks that were being watched very closely for any sign of “hope and a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Tower Insurance gained 1c to 79c.

The company earlier welcomed a Reserve Bank of New Zealanddecision to confirm a reduction in the minimum solvency margin required to be held by Tower under its licence condition from $50m to $25m.

The reduction recognises Tower’s decreasing risk related to the Canterbury earthquakes.

Globally equity markets rose after the Federal Reserve said it expected the US economy to accelerate this year yet but that it would also keep its benchmark interest rate pinned near zero through 2023 – despite concerns in financial markets about potentially higher inflation.

The Fed now expects the US economy to expand 6.5 per cent this year, up sharply from its previous projection in December of 4.2 per cent.

It also said it would continue its monthly purchases of US$120 billion ($165.5b) in bonds, which are intended to keep longer-term borrowing costs low.

That hadn’t had too much impact locally, Price said.

The comments echoed those that had been made by our own Reserve Bank with regards to interest rates staying on hold for some time and looking through inflation, he said.

The big local economic news was an unexpected drop of 1 per cent in December quarter GDP.

But while that was worse than expected, investors had largely looked through the noise, on the basis that economic data would be choppy for some time yet, Price said.

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