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MARKET CLOSE: stocks fall as investors eye China, wait on OCR hike; Fletcher, Xero drop

 New Zealand stocks fell amid global concern over Chinese bond defaults and weakening economic data while and ahead of what's expected to be a rise in interest rates from the central bank tomorrow. Fletcher Building, Xero and Port of Tauranga declined.

The NZX 50 Index fell 5.407 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5096.530, the third straight decline. Within the index, 17 stocks fell, 18 rose and 15 were unchanged. Turnover was $133 million.

Equity markets across Asia declined as a Shanghai-listed company's bonds were suspended from trading. That follows data showing China's exports dropped 18 percent in February from a year earlier and producer prices sank 2 percent, stoking concern growth in the region's biggest economy may be faltering.

"Some of these big macro issues coming out of China will keep investors' attention, certainly over the next few days, to see how that eventuates," said James Smalley a director at Hamilton Hindin Greene. "Everyone is waiting to see if this is a sign of things to come or if it's a one off type of situation."

Fletcher, New Zealand's largest company, slipped 1.7 percent to $9.53. Xero, the cloud-based accounting software company, dropped 2.5 percent to $43.65 while Port of Tauranga, New Zealand's biggest export port, fell 1.4 percent to $13.92.

Tomorrow the Reserve Bank of New Zealand is widely expected to increase the official cash rate a quarter point to 2.75 percent, the first increase in almost four years.

"The market is treading water to a certain degree, we're going to find out tomorrow more than likely that we're going to be the first country in the western world to increase its rates," Smalley said. "The higher interest rates go the more relatively attractive fixed interest becomes" compared to stocks.

A2 Corp fell 2.2 percent to 91 cents. Fonterra Shareholders' Fund dropped 0.9 percent to $5.85 and Warehouse Group declined 0.9 percent to $3.24.

Among companies shedding their dividends, online auction site Trade Me Group was the worst performer, dropping 4.1 percent to $3.75. Ebos Group sank 2.4 percent to $10.15. Steel & Tube Holdings fell 2.2 percent to $3.05, while Air New Zealand declined 2.4 percent to $1.835.

Skellerup Holdings was unchanged at $1.80. The industrial rubber goods maker announced a $32.3 million settlement with insurers over claims from the Canterbury earthquakes. It also shed rights to its interim dividend.

MightyRiverPower rose 0.8 percent to $2.025. Meridian Energy was unchanged at $1.095 as was Contact Energy at $5.25. The government launches its share offer of Genesis Energy tomorrow, and plans to sell between 30 percent to 49 percent of the state-owned electricity company.

"A few institutions might have been freeing up a bit of cash potentially for the Genesis listing to hit the bourse," Smalley said.

Auckland International Airport climbed 2.1 percent to $3.89. Telecom rose 0.6 percent to $2.45. SkyCity Entertainment Group gained 0.5 percent to $3.92. Telecommunications network provider Chorus was the day's best performer up 4.5 percent to $1.64.

(BusinessDesk)

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