Singapore market falls in tandem with regional bourses

SINGAPORE - Asian shares continued their retreat today amid concerns over the United States economy and regulatory tightening in the Chinese market.

The regional markets braced for a tough day after the US reported overnight a trade deficit increase of 43.1 per cent in March to US$51.4 billion. The deficit was the highest since October 2008, pointing to an economic contraction for the US in the first quarter.

This sparked another round of sell-off on Wall Street, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping 0.79 per cent and added to the pressure from China where worries persist over tighter margin trading rules put up by securities firms.

Shanghai fell 1.62 per cent, following Tuesday's 4 per cent drop, while Hong Kong closed 0.41 per cent down.

The mixture of external pressure also dragged down the local benchmark Straits Times Index, which closed 11.4 points or 0.33 per cent down at 3,459.79.

The top gainers among the blue chips were Sembcorp Marine, which closed eight cents or 2.71 per cent up at $3.03 and Sembcorp Industries, which closed five cents or 1.12 per cent higher at $4.50. Keppel Corp, another key offshore and energy related play, inched up one cent to $8.80.

The three counters rose as Brent futures rose overnight to reach above US$68 per barrel for the first time this year.

On the other end of the ledger, Noble Group closed three cents or 3.37 per cent down at 86 cents. The commodity firm announced on Tuesday a 30 per cent year-on-year drop in first quarter net profit to US$106.62 million due partly to a US$71.6 million share of losses by associates.

Singapore Airlines closed 29 cents or 2.39 per cent lower at $11.85. Outlook of the carrier remains shrouded in uncertainties, after its subsidiary Tigerair reported a smaller net loss of $18.8 million for the three months to March 31. SIA will announce its own results on May 14.

Elsewhere in Asia, Kuala Lumpur dropped 0.35 per cent but Jakarta gained 0.48 per cent. Tokyo was closed for holiday.