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Market close: Shares fall ahead of earnings - SkyCity, Fletcher drop

New Zealand shares fell on a day when holidays in Asia kept markets quiet and as investors ponder whether earnings will match bullish expectations. SkyCity Entertainment Group and Fletcher Building led the decline.

The NZX 50 Index fell 5.21 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4220.50. Within the index, 14 stocks fell, 28 rose and eight were unchanged, with the weight of stocks such as Fletcher and Telecom pulling the index lower. Turnover was 123 million.

SkyCity fell 1.7 percent to $4.02. The casino and hotel group is the first major company to post its results on Wednesday and may report a 4 percent decline in earnings as it cycles the year-earlier boost from the Rugby World Cup, according to First NZ Capital.

Fletcher Building, the biggest company on the NZX 50, fell 1.2 percent to $8.85, having climbed almost 40 percent in the past six months. It is due to report its first-half results on February 20, with growing demand in Christchurch hopefully making up for weak Australian housing starts.

"Fletcher is pricing in a lot of good news. It can ill afford to have any disappointment," says Rickey Ward, equities manager at Tyndall Investment Management.

More broadly, the market is expecting the earnings season will be better than this time last year, with first-half earnings growth contributing to broker estimates of 7 percent to 11 percent full-year EPS growth, he says.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, the manufacturer of respirators and breathing masks, fell 1.3 percent to $2.33. Auckland International Airport, the nation's busiest gateway, fell 1.1 percent to $2.81.

Trade Me, the auction website, rose 2.3 percent to $4.38. The company will join the NZX 10 Index of the nation's biggest listed companies effective February 18, replacing Sky Network Television, currently the lowest ranked on the NZX 10.

Sky TV gained 0.6 percent to $5.21.

Telecom fell 0.6 percent to $2.33 and Chorus, the network company spun off from Telecom, fell 0.6 percent to $3.13.

Pumpkin Patch, the children's clothing chain, rose about 3 percent to $1.39 and was the biggest percentage gainer on the NZX 50. The company reports its interim results on March 21 and is expected to resume dividend payments, according to Forsyth Barr.

Summerset Group, the retirement village operator, rose 2.7 percent to $2.64. Infratil gained 1.2 percent to $2.44 and Ebos Group rose 1.2 percent to $8.70.

Among smaller companies, Allied Farmers declined 6.9 percent to 2.7 cents after saying a lender has called in a $500,000 loan which it will not be able to repay on time without help from its main secured lender.

Eastern Bay of Plenty electricity lines company Horizon Energy was untraded at $3.40 after cutting its forecast earnings by a fifth on the cost of regulation and last year's Aquaheat acquisition, and signalling there may be more to come due to its exposure to the collapse of Mainzeal Property and Construction.

(BusinessDesk)