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MARKET CLOSE: NZ shares mixed; Spark gains, Kathmandu falls before earnings

New Zealand shares were mixed, with the benchmark index rising but more stocks in decline. Spark New Zealand led gainers while Kathmandu fell ahead of the release of the retailer's first-half earnings tomorrow.

The NZX 50 Index rose 3.851 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5875.227. Within the index, 18 stocks rose, 21 fell and 11 were unchanged. Turnover was $176 million, of which $69 million was Spark and Fletcher Building alone.

Spark rose 2.8 percent to $3.155 ahead of shedding its 9 cents a share interim dividend on March 25. The shares may also have rebounded from a sell-off last week, when a global portfolio manager was reportedly tweaking its holdings. Volumes also jumped last week amid global index changes.

Kathmandu, the outdoor equipment chain, fell 4.7 percent to $1.61. The company, which counts Australia as its biggest market, warned in early February that it was expecting a first-half loss of $1 million to $2 million after Christmas and January trading lagged behind expectations.

"It's more of an Australian stock than a New Zealand stock from an investor's perspective," said Nigel Scott, a director at Craigs Investment Partners. "People have positioned themselves. Growth managers have probably exited the story and others are waiting to see what the company's coming up with tomorrow." He said New Zealand investors are typically underweight in retail stocks.

The strength of the kiwi dollar against the Australian dollar, to reach a post-float high today, "makes Australian earnings brought back to New Zealand a bit ordinary," Scott said.

Fletcher Building, which counts Australia as its second-largest market, fell 0.9 percent to $8.85. A2 Milk, which gets most of its sales in Australia, fell about 2 percent to 50 cents.

Sky Network Television fell 0.9 percent to $5.85 ahead of the launch tomorrow of a local service of Nasdaq-listed Netflix, with a rival content service that starts at just $9.99 a month.

Goodman Property Trust rose 2.2 percent to $1.18, leading gains among some property investors. DNZ Property Fund rose 1.1 percent to $1.92 and Property for Industry rose 0.6 percent to $1.61.

"You're still looking for yield opportunities - global interest rates are easing apart from the US," Scott said.

Meridian Energy fell 0.7 percent to $2.075 ahead of the second payment on the partly paid installment receipts of 50 cents due in May.

SkyCity Entertainment Group declined about 2 percent to $3.98 and Fonterra Shareholders' Fund, whose units are entitled to the dividends on the dairy giant's ordinary shares, rose 1.9 percent to $6 ahead of the company's first-half results on Wednesday.