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Singapore Stocks May Reverse Friday's Gains

The Singapore stock market on Friday halted the two-day losing streak in which it had given away almost 40 points or 1.3 percent. The Straits Times Index wound up just shy of the 2,980-point plateau, although now traders are bracing for renewed selling pressure when the market opens on Monday.

The global forecast for the Asian markets is mixed with a hint of downside as investors figure to remain cautious regarding lingering concerns over the debt situation in Europe, as well as geopolitical tensions concerning Syria and Iran. Steel and oil companies are expected to provide support, with gold and airlines called lower. The European and U.S. markets were mixed but little changed on Friday, and the Asian bourses are expected to follow suit.

The STI finished modestly higher on Friday as gains from the broader market were held in check by weakness from the financial sector.

For the day, the index gained 9.74 points or 0.33 percent to finish at the daily high of 2,978.08 after trading as low as 2,960.02. Volume was 1.48 billion shares worth 1.39 billion Singapore dollars. There were 243 gainers and 159 decliners, with 374 stocks finishing unchanged.

Among the actives, CWT spiked 10 percent, SembCorp Marine added 0.6 percent, Singapore Technologies Engineering climbed 1.6 percent and Jardine Matheson jumped 1.9 percent, while United Overseas Bank shed 1.6 percent, Cosco Corp lost 1.6 percent and Jardine Cycle and Carriage plummeted 6 percent.

The lead from Wall Street remains ambiguous as stocks showed a lack of direction on Friday with traders reluctant to make any significant moves. The major averages lingered near the unchanged line for most of the session, eventually ending the day mixed pending questions about whether the global economic situation supports further upside for the markets.

Traders largely shrugged off a report from Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan showing that the consumer sentiment index for February was upwardly revised to 75.3 from the mid-month reading of 72.5. Economists had expected the index to be upwardly revised to 73.0 after showing 75.0 in January. The index is now at its highest level since February of 2011.

A separate report from the Commerce Department showed that new home sales slipped 0.9 percent to an annual rate of 321,000 in January from the revised December rate of 324,000. Economists had expected new home sales to edge up to 315,000 from the 307,000 originally reported for the previous month.

Among individual stocks, Nordson (NDSN) and Salesforce.com (CRM) posted strong gains after reporting better than expected quarterly results. Meanwhile, J.C. Penney (JCP) ended the day modestly lower after the department store operator reported a fourth quarter loss compared to a year-ago profit. Excluding restructuring charges, however, the company reported a profit that exceeded analyst estimates.

After reaching a high above the key 13,000 level, the Dow gave back some ground, closing down 1.74 points or less than a tenth of a percent at 12,982.95. Meanwhile, the NASDAQ rose 6.77 points or 0.2 percent to 2,963.75 and the S&P 500 climbed 2.25 points or 0.2 percent to 1,365.74. Despite the mixed performance on the day, the major averages all posted modest gains for the week. The NASDAQ advanced by 0.4 percent, while the Dow and the S&P 500 both rose by 0.3 percent.

In economic news, Singapore's industrial production decreased more than expected in January due to weaknesses in the global economy and lower activities as a result of the Chinese New Year period, the Economic Development Board said on Friday. Manufacturing output dropped 8.8 percent from a year ago, while economists were expecting a 1.6 percent fall. Excluding biomedical manufacturing, output dropped 15.3 percent annually. On a seasonally adjusted monthly comparison, industrial production increased 3.3 percent. Economists were looking for a 3.2 percent rise.

by RTT Staff Writer

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