STI down as focus remains on US rate call

Federal Reserve expected to announce this year's first interest rate hike early today

Singapore stocks lost ground for a second straight day as traders continue to await an interest rate decision from the United States.

The benchmark Straits Times Index (STI) slid 5.97 points or 0.19 per cent to 3,137.43. A total of 1.42 billion shares worth $1.14 billion changed hands across the bourse.

Markets in the region were mostly down as well. Tokyo lost 0.16 per cent, Hong Kong shed 0.15 per cent and Kuala Lumpur fell 0.3 per cent.

Shanghai was among the few outliers, gaining a tiny 0.08 per cent.

Wall Street also lost ground, with a 0.21 per cent decline overnight led in part by a drop in oil prices.

All eyes are on the US Federal Reserve, which is widely expected to announce its first rate hike this year early today.

"If you're excited about whether Fed chair Janet Yellen will say anything about the number of hikes this year, I think you will be disappointed," said Mr Henrik Drusebjerg, chief strategist at Carnegie Investment Bank, in a Bloomberg Radio interview.

"The Fed has come to use a new term that they will use the window when they have it. If the economy is strong, they will continue hiking," he added.

At home, the laggards included container port operator Hutchison Port Holdings Trust, which sank 2.5 per cent or one US cent to 39.5 US cents, and Sats, which shed 1.4 per cent or seven cents to $4.89.

However, bourse operator Singapore Exchange inched up 0.1 per cent or one cent to $7.54.

An RHB report noted that trading volumes have been strong over the past two months, with the securities average daily value surging 38 per cent month-on-month to $1.36 billion in February.

It kept a "buy" call on the stock as it "remains attractive", and added that it expects to see higher trading volumes for the China A50 Index Futures, following the commencement of the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect last December.

Commodity plays clocked gains, with Wilmar International up 1.7 per cent or six cents to $3.62 and Golden Agri-Resources rising 1.3 per cent or half a cent to 38 cents.

Healthway Medical Corporation was the most active counter, jumping 7.1 per cent or 0.3 cent to 4.5 cents on 72.1 million shares done.

Meanwhile, DBS Equity Research analyst Paul Yong singled out Singapore O&G, Ezion Holdings and Midas Holdings as some of the top picks within the small and mid-cap space for this month.

"Currently trading at bombed- out valuations, we think that Ezion and Midas could subsequently re-rate on earnings recovery," said Mr Yong.

He added: "Singapore O&G should continue to ride on robust organic growth prospects, with further upside from mergers and acquisitions, if any."

All three counters finished flat, with Singapore O&G at $1.24, Ezion at 35 cents and Midas at 23 cents.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2017, with the headline 'STI down as focus remains on US rate call'. Print Edition | Subscribe