Regional markets see topsy-turvy trading

News that US is close to stimulus deal and Covid-19 cure claims aid intraday recovery

Local shares ended a dismal week with a topsy-turvy session, along with other regional benchmarks.

A sell-off here was hardly unexpected after Wall Street on Thursday had its worst single-day fall since the Black Monday stock market crash of 1987.

The 5 per cent drop at the start of trading yesterday was the largest decline at the open for the Straits Times Index (STI) since 2008.

The STI fell by more than 6 per cent shortly after, but clawed back most losses in the afternoon to end 44.64 points, or 1.7 per cent lower, at 2,634. It was 326.98 points, or 11 per cent, down for the week.

The intraday recovery yesterday came on the back of reports of a Canadian pharmaceutical firm claiming to have found a cure for Covid-19 and news that the United States Congress is nearing a stimulus deal with the White House.

Of course, bargain hunters were at play too.

The better mood was also helped by the roll-out of an unscheduled bond-buying plan by the Bank of Japan, along with a liquidity injection. Australia also announced fiscal stimulus measures.

Australia's ASX 200 had its wildest trading day on record. It fell by as much as 8 per cent before climbing towards the end of trading to finish 4.4 per cent higher.

China, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan retracked most of their opening losses but still closed lower.

Gold continued to dip during Asian trade. "De-risking or leveraging sees investors selling bullion to pay for losses in stocks, and that is currently outweighing it as a safe-haven hedge," said AxiCorp chief markets strategist Stephen Innes.

Keppel closed 2.3 per cent up at $5.27 and Sembcorp finished 3.8 per cent higher at $1.64.

STI counters sensitive to oil prices - West Texas Intermediate and Brent were up - such as Keppel Corp and Sembcorp Industries were among the gainers.

The banks recovered most of their early losses. OCBC fell 0.4 per cent to $9.07, UOB was 1.9 per cent down at $20.14, while DBS lost 4.2 per cent to $19.35. The trio were trading at price levels last seen in 2017.

Real estate investment trusts (Reits) were broadly lower with the iEdge S-REIT Index down 55.43 points, or 4.2 per cent, to 1,281.17.

Trading volume stood at 2.91 billion shares worth $3.45 billion with losers trumping gainers 430 to 137.

"Bottom fishers would be better advised to wait for signs of stabilisation before dipping their toes back in the water," said Oanda Asia-Pacific senior market analyst Jeffrey Halley.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2020, with the headline 'Regional markets see topsy-turvy trading'. Print Edition | Subscribe