A lacklustre effort from Wall Street overnight coupled with a quiet day on the data front left local shares in a listless mood yesterday.
The end result left the Straits Times Index (STI) down 21.7 points or 0.6 per cent to 3,517.73 on trade of two billion shares worth $1.3 billion. Losers beat gainers 220 to 184.
Key indexes in Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea closed higher while China, Taiwan, Australia and Malaysia noted declines.
United States stocks fell overnight led by poor retail numbers and extended concerns on reports that US President Donald Trump would seek fresh tariffs on imports from China.
"This is really not going to go away any time soon, particularly with the market still anticipating upcoming moves against China... a worrying trend for markets across the globe," said IG Markets analyst Jingyi Pan.
Traders are also likely to maintain a cautious stance ahead of next week's Federal Open Market Committee meeting helmed by new Federal Reserve chief Jerome Powell.
There are silver linings for the local bourse. DBS Research lifted its year-end target for the STI to 3,715 following stronger-than-expected corporate results that have led to earnings upgrades for 2018.
It noted that MSCI Singapore saw the strongest earnings growth revision among Asian countries after MSCI Hong Kong. DBS attributed this mainly to a more optimistic outlook on the global recovery that was driving Singapore's prospects.
The three banking heavyweights, OCBC, UOB and DBS, fell between 0.7 per cent and 1.8 per cent.
Singtel, the preferred pick among analysts in a tough telco landscape bursting with competition, gained some ground, advancing two cents to $3.42. RHB Research said Singtel's 7 to 14 per cent stock underperformance over the past six to 12 months after a sell-down offers a good opportunity to accumulate.
Nutryfarm International jumped eight cents or nearly 35 per cent to 31 cents and prompted a Singapore Exchange (SGX) query over the "unusual price movements".
The Hong Kong-based company, which is on the SGX watch list, called for a trading halt at 12.56pm pending an announcement.
Spackman Entertainment Group was the day's 10th most active with 27 million shares worth $2.5 million traded. The counter rose 0.2 cent to 9.2 cents. The Korean entertainment group said it has sold Be With You, a top film at the Korean box office, to 17 countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, the US and Britain.