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Singapore Stock Market Draws Flat Lead

The Singapore stock market has moved lower now in consecutive trading days, giving away almost 25 points or 1.2 percent in the process. The Straits Times Index finished just below the 2,995-point plateau, and now traders are expecting the market to remain in that neighborhood when it kicks off trade on Friday.

The global forecast for the Asian markets is mixed, although any losses may be capped later by bargain hunting after fairly steep losses already this week. Financials may fall after Moody's Investors Service said it has downgraded the credit ratings of five Portuguese banks. But the markets may get a bounce from U.S. economic data as the Labor Department reported that weekly jobless claims beat estimates while falling to a four-year low. The European markets finished firmly in the red and the U.S. bourses were mixed but little changed - and the Asian markets figure to split the difference.

The STI finished modestly lower on Thursday following losses from the property stocks and plantations.

For the day, the index lost 21.89 points or 0.73 percent to finish at 2,994.09 after trading between 2,991.72 and 3,015.32 on volume of 1.63 billion shares. There were 221 decliners and 123 gainers.

Among the decliners, CapitaLand shed 2.5 percent, while CapitaMalls Asia lost 2.4 percent, Olam International fell 1.7 percent, Wilmar International retreated 1.0 percent and Swiber Holdings plummeted 2.9 percent. Wall Street offers little guidance as stocks staged a recovery on Thursday afternoon after opening sharply lower. Profit taking contributed to the early weakness, with some traders cashing in on the recent strength in the markets amid calls by a number of analysts for a correction.

On the economic front, the U.S. Labor Department reported that weekly jobless claims missed estimates although still touched a four-year low. Jobless claims edged down to 359,000 in the week ended March 24 from the previous week's revised figure of 364,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to inch up to 350,000 from the 348,000 originally reported for the previous week.

A separate report from the Commerce Department showed that U.S. economic growth in the fourth quarter was unrevised, as a downward revision to exports was offset by an upward revision to non-residential fixed investment. GDP increased at an annual rate of 3.0 percent in the fourth quarter, unchanged from the previous estimate and in line with economist estimates.

Among individual stocks, Best Buy (BBY) fell by 7 percent after the consumer electronics retailer reported a fourth quarter loss. Mosaic (MOS) also ended the day in the red after the potash producer reported lower quarterly earnings and revenues.

On the other hand, shares of Red Hat (RHT) jumped 19.5 percent after the business software developer reported better than expected fourth quarter earnings and announced a $300 million stock buyback.

The major U.S. markets were mixed but little changed on Thursday as the Dow managed to close higher, but the NASDAQ and the S&P 500 closed in the red. The Dow crept up 19.61 points or 0.2 percent to finish at 13,145.82, while the NASDAQ slipped 9.60 points or 0.3 percent to 3,095.36 and the S&P 500 edged down 2.26 points or 0.2 percent to 1,403.28.

In economic news, Singapore's producer prices index of manufactured products increased 3.5 percent on year in February, the Department of Statistics said on Thursday, slower than the 5.9 percent growth in January. Domestic supply prices increased 4.8 percent in February. Prices of oil products rose 13.6 percent annually, while non-oil prices fell 0.6 percent. On a monthly basis, output prices moved up 0.7 percent in February, following the previous month's 1.3 percent growth.

Also, Singapore import price inflation halved to 2.4 percent in February on a yearly basis from 5 percent in January, the Department of Statistics said on Thursday. The oil index rose 14.5 percent, while the non-oil index fell 1.5 percent. On month, the import price index dipped 0.4 percent versus the 1 percent increase in January.

by RTT Staff Writer

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