Bulls And Bears

STI at four-year low as WHO declares pandemic

Europe-US travel ban also sets stage for more sell-offs in Asia; oil prices slip

Singapore's Straits Times Index (STI) continued to bleed yesterday, ending at a four-year low after the World Health Organisation labelled Covid-19 a pandemic and the US imposed a 30-day travel halt from Europe.

The local benchmark was in the red from the opening bell, diving by as much as 4.1 per cent in the early session. It closed 3.8 per cent lower at 2,678.64, the lowest closing level since March 2016.

All but one of the STI's 30 components ended the day in the red.

With Wall Street tumbling almost 5 per cent on Wednesday, the stage was set for further sell-offs in Asia.

The suspension of travel from Europe to the United States, announced by US President Donald Trump, could squeeze leisure and travel sectors further. The suspension does not affect Britain.

IG market strategist Pan Jingyi said: "With approximately a fifth of the visitor arrivals to the US being accounted for by both Western and Eastern Europe, this would further strain the related sectors."

However, Mr Jeffrey Halley, Oanda's Asia-Pacific senior market analyst, pointed out that the US President did not announce "any new concrete measures" such as a large-scale payroll tax cut, to buffer the economy. "That has probably disappointed markets more than anything," he said.

Even safe-haven gold fell as traders closed their long positions to meet margin calls as equities dived.

Oil prices also slipped, with West Texas Intermediate and Brent trading around US$31 a barrel and US$33 a barrel, respectively.

The depressed oil prices continued to hit the STI's conglomerate Keppel Corp and Sembcorp Industries. Keppel shed 7.2 per cent to $5.15. Sembcorp fell 3.7 per cent to close at a 15-year-low of $1.58.

Singapore Press Holdings was the sole gainer on the STI. The media and property group, which publishes The Straits Times, closed 2.1 per cent higher at $1.91.

Singapore's banks continued their losing streak. DBS Bank dropped 3.9 per cent to $20.20, OCBC Bank finished 4.1 per cent lower at $9.11, and United Overseas Bank ended at $20.53, falling 3.9 per cent.

Yesterday saw the debut of United Hampshire US Reit on the Singapore bourse's mainboard. The retail-focused US property trust closed at US$0.64, down 20 per cent from its initial public offering price of US$0.80.

Trading volume in Singapore was 1.96 billion securities while total turnover came to $2.63 billion. Across the broader market, decliners trumped advancers 449 to 99.

Elsewhere in Asia-Pacific, benchmarks in Australia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan registered heavy losses.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2020, with the headline 'STI at four-year low as WHO declares pandemic'. Print Edition | Subscribe