STI dips ahead of new Fed chief's testimony

All eyes will be on pace of US rate hikes; mixed showing from key Asian markets

It was downhill in the second half of the trading session yesterday as investors stayed light ahead of US Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell's first policy testimony to Congress.

After heading north for much of the first half, the Straits Times Index buckled on cautious sentiment and closed down 15.46 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 3,540.39. That left it up just 0.2 per cent for the month with only today's trading to come.

It was mixed elsewhere with the Shanghai Composite snapping six straight sessions of gains to fall 1.1 per cent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng slipped 0.7 per cent. Japan's Nikkei 225 climbed 1.1 per cent and Australia's ASX 200 extended gains for the fifth straight session, this time by 0.2 per cent.

This followed overnight gains in Wall Street as concerns eased over inflation. Observers said considerable attention will be focused on Mr Powell's testimony, chiefly whether he will raise rates at a faster pace than last year.

Hints of more rate rises this year than in 2017 would likely trigger a share sell-off, FXTM noted.

Turnover here came in at 2.5 billion shares worth $1.6 billion with losers outpacing gainers 236 to 204.

Banking stocks led the losses with DBS down 57 cents to $29.06, while United Overseas Bank fell eight cents to $28.38 and OCBC slipped 14 cents to $13.33.

Olam International dropped one cent to $2.27. A one-off gain from divestments of its sugar refining business in Indonesia and edible nuts farmland assets in the US, lower depreciation and amortisation, and net finance charges lifted its fourth-quarter results.

Sembcorp Industries rose two cents to $3.22, while rig builder Sembcorp Marine advanced four cents to $2.22. With both counters outperforming the local benchmark and on track for their first gains since last week, it appears that the market may be looking beyond their weak near-term earnings, which were released last week.

Raffles Medical Group gained six cents to $1.16. OCBC Investment Research has maintained its "buy" call on the counter after its 2017 results were in line with expectations.

"While we continue to be less sanguine on the prospects of a marked recovery in foreign patient demand at Raffles Hospital, we believe that there are a number of bright sparks going forward," the house said.

This referred to stronger-than-expected contributions from Raffles Holland V and topline growth from the opening of Raffles Specialist Centre, an extension of Raffles Hospital.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2018, with the headline 'STI dips ahead of new Fed chief's testimony'. Subscribe