A fall in exports in December for the second month running spooked investors and dragged down the local market.
The news hit in the morning and sent the Straits Times Index (STI) heading south for most of the day before closing at 3,214.44, off 0.45 per cent or 14.67 points.
Turnover was 1.7 billion shares worth $961.41 million with losers outnumbering gainers 206 to 167.
Economists had forecast non-oil domestic exports (Nodx) to rebound 2 per cent in December, but were disappointed with a 8.5 per cent year-on-year decline instead, on the back of weaker performances in just about every sector.
No single geopolitical event like the United States-China trade war fully explains the overall decline either, said ING chief economist and head of research for Asia-Pacific Robert Carnell, adding that Singapore's exports to the two countries actually improved.
He noted that the data "almost certainly will result in a downward revision" to ING's 1.6 per cent quarter-on-quarter estimate for the fourth quarter and may lower its full-year growth estimate of 3.3 per cent for 2018. ING may also ease its full-year GDP forecast for 2019 from the current 2.5 per cent, Mr Carnell said.
Ezion Holdings led active trading for a third straight day, with 77 million shares traded. The firm gained 2 per cent to 5.1 cents. ThaiBev ended its nine-day winning streak, down 1.38 per cent to 71.5 cents on volume of about 14 million shares.
The usually thinly traded QT Vascular saw 17.1 million shares change hands, bumping its price up 14.29 per cent to 0.8 cent. The medtech firm announced on Wednesday that it is expanding an ongoing study for one of its products to include the use of an additional surgical procedure, after receiving approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.
The excitement has begun to wear off for CapitaLand, which made news this week with its $11 billion acquisition of Temasek unit Ascendas-Singbridge. Trading volumes returned to normal with 6.2 million shares changing hands as the counter closed at $3.28, down 0.61 per cent. It had gained 0.92 per cent over the previous two days, on volumes of 20.4 million shares traded the day after the announcement and 9.7 million on Wednesday.
Corporate Singapore is heading into the earnings season with about a third of the STI constituents reporting results over the next four weeks. Singapore Press Holdings kicked things off last week and will be followed by CapitaLand and CapitaLand Mall Trust next week.