Bulls And Bears

Markets up on hope of trade talks breakthrough

Lowered threat of US govt shutdown also boosts sentiment; banks lead STI's rise

Markets looking for a boost from positive trade talk news got something like it after US President Donald Trump told reporters on Tuesday that he is open to extending the deadline for a US-China agreement if the two parties appear close to a deal.

Global markets climbed broadly, gaining on the hope for a breakthrough in the trade talks due to start today.

Another threat to sentiment showed signs of lifting, when Mr Trump expressed unhappiness but not direct objection to the latest deal on border security brokered by a bipartisan Congress committee. The agreement, meant to avert a government shutdown due tomorrow, offers just US$1.375 billion (S$1.87 billion) in border wall funding, which Republican leaders have called a "down payment" on the wall.

Mr Trump is expected to go along with the deal, albeit grudgingly, thus averting another shutdown of the federal government.

As things stand, the upcoming deadlines look as though they may pass without incident, said ING's chief economist and head of research, Asia-Pacific, Mr Robert Carnell. "This may not be a bad thing if it means that the chances of a deal of some sort, whether on US-China trade, the US border wall or Brexit, are increased."

Singapore's Straits Times Index (STI) traded upwards all day, closing 1.36 per cent or 43.62 points higher at 3,244.77. Turnover on the bourse was 1.29 billion shares worth $1.23 billion, and gainers outnumbered losers 223 to 191.

Rex International led active trading, losing 0.1 cent or 1.06 per cent to 9.3 cents on 73.2 million shares traded. It was followed by Ezion Holdings, which gave up 0.2 cent or 4.25 per cent to 4.5 cents with 49.4 million shares traded.

All but five STI constituents ended in the black, led by financials. DBS Group Holdings picked up 56 cents or 2.3 per cent to close at $24.90, and UOB gained 62 cents or 2.45 per cent to $25.96. OCBC Bank finished at $11.65 after advancing 16 cents or 1.39 per cent.

Hutchison Port Holdings Trust led the index's laggards, losing one US cent or 3.85 per cent to close at 25 US cents after 15.8 million units were traded. The trust reported a net loss of HK$12.11 billion (S$2.1 billion) on Tuesday, on the back of an unexpected HK$12.3 billion non-cash impairment loss. OCBC Investment Research downgraded its call on the counter from "buy" to "sell".

OCBC analyst Deborah Ong noted that HPH Trust's price levels are no longer attractive, given the macro uncertainties.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2019, with the headline 'Markets up on hope of trade talks breakthrough'. Print Edition | Subscribe