Singapore shares closed lower as investors held their fire ahead of remarks today from United States Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen and the release of US non-farm payroll data on Friday.
The Straits Times Index fell 17.1 points or 0.6 per cent to 2,830.29, weighed down by banking counters.
DBS Group shed 1.1 per cent or 17 cents to $15.17, OCBC Bank lost 0.9 per cent or eight cents to $8.83 while UOB fell 0.5 per cent or nine cents to $18.56.
Remisier Alvin Yong said yesterday: "If non-farm payrolls outperform expectations, then there is a likelihood that the (US interest) rate hike could happen in April. But if it falls way below expectations, the hike may be pushed back to the second half of the year."
Fed officials will be looking for evidence that US inflation is heading back to 2 per cent and for stronger employment to boost wages.
Dr Yellen and San Francisco Federal Reserve president John Williams are scheduled to speak today, and New York Federal Reserve president William Dudley on Friday.
"The data and comments, specially those from Yellen, Dudley and Williams, will shape expectations on whether the Fed will hike at its meeting on April 27," DBS Group Research said.
Halcyon Agri was among the most actively traded counters, jumping 1.4 per cent or one cent to 74 cents with 39.9 million shares traded. The rise came after Sinochem International Corp offered to buy the Singapore-listed global rubber trader and combine it with other units to create the world's largest listed rubber company.
Annica Holdings, the most actively traded counter, plunged 50 per cent or 0.1 cent to 0.1 cent, with 1.13 billion shares traded. The company attracted a query from the Singapore Exchange on the "unusual volume movement" of its shares.
Industrial property developer OKH Global, whose stock had nose-dived nearly 80 per cent to 7.1 cents on March 21 after shares pledged by its chief executive to various foreign banks were force-sold, continued to hog penny activity. It gained 7.7 per cent or one cent to 14 cents, with 122.5 million shares traded yesterday.
Speculation that Parkson Retail could be the next privatisation candidate sent the department-store operator up 18.6 per cent or 3.3 cents to 21 cents, with 78.4 million shares traded.
Other hotly traded stocks included Magnus Energy, which surged 50 per cent or 0.1 cent to 0.3 cent, with 92.2 million shares traded, while Ezra Holdings rose 1.8 per cent or 0.2 cent to 11.3 cents, with 78 million shares traded.
OCBC Investment Research has a neutral call on the oil and gas sector after last week's Budget unveiled assistance for the beleaguered offshore marine sector, including deferring levy increases for work permit holders for one year.