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Singapore Stocks May See Renewed Support

The Singapore stock market on Thursday wrote a finish to the three-day winning streak in which it had gathered more than 60 points or 2 percent. The Straits Times Index finished just above the 3,025-point plateau, and now traders are looking for a positive bounce when the market kicks off trade on Friday.

The global forecast for the Asian markets is mixed with an upside bias, thanks to bargain hunting and better than expected economic data from the United States. Capping the upside, Fitch Ratings downgraded the UK's credit rating outlook to 'negative' from 'stable,' citing the economy's vulnerability to adverse economic shocks. The European markets were mixed but little changed and the U.S. bourses were slightly higher, and the Asian markets figure to split the difference.

The STI finished flat on Thursday following softness from the industrials and a mixed bag from the financial shares.

For the day, the index eased 0.56 points or 0.02 percent to finish at 3,025.84 after trading between 3,016.92 and 3,030.68 on volume of 1.28 billion shares. There were 222 decliners and 137 gainers.

Among the actives, United Overseas Bank added 0.2 percent, while DBS Group Holdings shed 0.6 percent, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp lost 0.7 percent, Swiber Holdings plummeted 5.7 percent and StarHub jumped 1.3 percent.

The lead from Wall Street is cautiously optimistic as stocks moved higher on Thursday, extending recent gains. The markets benefited from positive U.S. economic data as the Labor Department reported a bigger than expected drop in initial jobless claims last week, to 351,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 365,000. Economists had expected claims to drop to 355,000 from 362,000. With the decrease, jobless claims matched the four-year low that was set in the week ended February 11.

A separate report from the New York Federal Reserve showed a continued expansion in regional manufacturing activity, with the index of activity in the sector showing an unexpected increase. Additionally, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve also showed a continued increase in regional manufacturing activity.

On the inflation front, the Labor Department said its producer price index rose 0.4 percent in February following a 0.1 percent increase in January versus forecasts for a gain of 0.5 percent. Excluding food and energy prices, the core producer price index edged up 0.2 percent in February compared to a 0.4 percent increase in the previous month - in line with economist estimates.

In corporate news, shares of Radvision (RVSN) rose 4.5 percent after the Israeli video conferencing company agreed to be acquired by Avaya for $11.85 per share in cash. The deal values Radvision at $230 million. Meanwhile, Guess (GES) bucked the uptrend after the clothing maker reported weaker than expected Q4 revenues and forecast first quarter results well below estimates.

The major averages closed firmly in positive territory, near their best levels of the day. The Dow rose 58.66 point or 0.4 percent to finish at 13,252.76, while the NASDAQ climbed 15.64 points or 0.5 percent to 3,056.37 and the S&P 500 advanced 8.32 points or 0.6 percent to 1,402.60.

With the gains on the day, the major averages once again reached new multi-year closing highs. The S&P 500 closed above 1,400 for the first time since June of 2008, while the Dow reached a new four-year closing high and the NASDAQ set a new eleven-year closing high.

In economic news, Singapore will on Friday provide February figures for non-oil domestic exports, with forecasts suggesting an increase of 16.2 percent on year following the 2.1 percent contraction in January. The NODX for electronics is tipped to add an annual 13.9 percent after shedding 10.9 percent in the previous month.

Also, the unemployment rate in Singapore declined to its lowest level in 14 years in 2011, revised estimates by the Ministry of Manpower confirmed Thursday.

The rate fell to 2 percent in 2011 from 2.2 percent in 2010. In the December quarter, the jobless rate remained unchanged at 2 percent compared to the previous quarter. All the figures matched the preliminary estimates.

Employment growth remained strong in 2011, supported by hiring for the festive season. Total employment grew by 37,600 from the third quarter. For the whole year, total employment increased by 122,600 or 3.9 percent, slightly higher than the gains of 115,900 in 2010.

Also, retail sales in Singapore increased unexpectedly in January, the Department of Statistics said on Thursday. Sales increased 1.7 percent on year in January, beating forecasts for a 1.3 percent decline following the 4.3 percent gain in December. On a seasonally adjusted month-on-month basis, sales rose 1.7 percent compared to 1.5 percent decline forecast. Vehicle sales were 9.9 percent higher than a month ago.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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