S'pore stocks set to drop 15%, rivalling those of Greece

While Singapore averted a recession in the third quarter, the Monetary Authority of Singapore has warned that weaker corporate balance sheets and currency market volatility pose risks to the nation's lenders.
While Singapore averted a recession in the third quarter, the Monetary Authority of Singapore has warned that weaker corporate balance sheets and currency market volatility pose risks to the nation's lenders.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

But investors Baring, UBS still see little value, preferring to wait for further drop

Singapore's stocks are set for a 15 per cent tumble this year, putting them in the same league as Greece's.

Baring Asset Management and UBS Group say the shares need to get even cheaper before they are prepared to buy.

Commodity trader Noble Group and oil-rig builder Sembcorp Marine are down at least 46 per cent this year, amid a raw-materials price rout, while DBS Group Holdings has been the biggest drag on the Straits Times Index (STI) as property prices decline and bad debts increase.

Among developed markets tracked by Bloomberg, the only benchmark measure that has fared worse is the ASE Index in Athens, which is poised for a 24 per cent plunge.

"While some value could emerge if Singapore drops another 10 per cent, there are not a lot of things to be wildly excited about Singapore at the moment," said Mr Soo Hai Lim, a Hong Kong-based money manager at Baring. "The growth outlook is still quite soft for 2016."

Following this year's slump, shares on the MSCI Singapore Index trade at 1.1 times the value of companies' net assets, compared with a multiple of two on a measure of global equities. The gap between the two widened this month to the most since May 2003. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index is heading for a 5.7 per cent retreat this year.

While attractive valuations may spur a rebound in the early part of next year, the outlook for the whole year still looks pessimistic, according to strategist Mixo Da at Nomura Holdings. "Growth overall is slowing, particularly in China, and that raises the risk for the earnings of banks and commodity companies," Mr Das said. "That's going to drag on Singapore valuations."

MSCI reclassified Greece as an emerging market in November 2013, while fellow index compiler FTSE still considers Greece as a developed market.

While Singapore averted a recession in the third quarter, the Monetary Authority of Singapore has warned that weaker corporate balance sheets and currency market volatility pose risks to the nation's lenders.

"The banks have exposure to the South-east Asia region," Mr Kelvin Tay, regional chief investment officer at UBS Wealth Management.

The non-performing loan ratio among Singapore banks rose to 1.5 per cent in the third quarter of this year, from 1.1 per cent a year earlier, the central bank said last month.

Bad loans have increased in the manufacturing sector, and banks with exposure to trade may see higher credit risks, the monetary authority said.

Still, Mr Nader Naeimi, Sydney-based head of dynamic markets at AMP Capital Investors, said he is staying optimistic because rising interest rates should help boost bank profitability.

Borrowing costs in Singapore were rising even before the Federal Reserve increased United States interest rates this month for the first time since 2006, helping to lift DBS Group's interest margins in the third quarter to a four-year high.

While Nomura's Mr Das expects the STI to end next year little changed from current levels, other brokerages are more optimistic, with Credit Suisse Group forecasting an advance to 3,000 and RHB Securities expecting a 12 per cent gain by December next year from Monday's close.

Still, Bank Julius Baer & Co says it is too early to buy.

"The growth outlook isn't great," said analyst Jen Chua at Bank Julius Baer in Singapore. "Though the downside from here may be limited, we won't get too positive on the market for now."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore stocks set to drop 15%, rivalling those of Greece'. Print Edition | Subscribe