Asian bourses cautious as Brexit vote looms, STI closes 3 points down

SINGAPORE - Caution continued to be the buzzword for Asian shares on Wednesday as the historic Brexit vote - set for tomorrow - loomed closer.

The benchmark Straits Times Index (STI) reversed its gains in last-minute trade, retreating 3.32 points, or 0.12 per cent, to 2,786.13. Elsewhere, Tokyo slid 0.64 per cent on a stronger yen, while Sydney shaved 0.06 per cent.

Hong Kong put on 0.61 per cent and Shanghai rose 0.94 per cent as the latest polls showed that voters in Britain were more for staying within the European Union.

The same optimism pulled Dow Jones higher overnight by 0.14 per cent, helped in part by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's cautious comments on the United States economy - a signal that the next interest rate hike may not come so soon. Still, stock markets remain on edge ahead of Thursday's referendum, fuelled by fears that a Brexit outcome could disrupt the global economy.

KGI Fraser Securities trading strategist Nicholas Teo noted that key markets have "all gone quiet" in recent sessions - a far cry from the volatility seen over the past two weeks.

"In reality though, with the 'undecided' vote still at a significant level, the swing factor to either side continues to remain a real possibility," he said.

"With the outcome still too close to call, traders have taken big bets off the table riding only on small positions leftover."

Of the 30 STI constituents, 15 clocked gains while 12 finished in the red.

Weighing on the index was Thai Beverage Public Company, which dropped 1.5 cents or 1.6 per cent to 89.5 cents, as well as Singapore Exchange, which was down six cents or 0.8 per cent to S$7.42.

Commodity counters also fared poorly, with Golden Agri-Resources falling half a cent or 1.4 per cent to 35 cents, while all of the three local banks finished in the red.

Outside of the STI, Singapore Post sank 5.5 cents or 3.5 per cent to S$1.505 in heavy trade, after the group said its chief operating office Sascha Hower has quit - the latest in a string of high-level departures within the postal group.

Offshore firm Ezion Holdings, which announced on Tuesday after the markets closed that it has entered into a joint venture agreement to acquire a 49 per cent stake in an Indonesian company, fell one cent or 1.9 per cent to 52 cents.

OCBC Investment Research analyst Low Pei Han maintains a "hold" rating on the stock, noting that the company has been generating positive operating cash flows, which is "a credible performance compared to peers".

A total of 791.3 million units worth S$781.6 million were traded across the bourse.