Bulls And Bears

Uncertainties near and far drag down STI

Tensions over N. Korea and Syria, upcoming French election add to investors' wariness

The local market dipped again yesterday as investors grew more wary of the uncertainties ahead.

From geopolitical events unfolding in North Korea and Syria to the French election this weekend and caution around corporate results, there are plenty of reasons for traders to take money off the table.

As a result, the Straits Times Index (STI) pared 11.26 points or 0.36 per cent to 3,126.28. Shanghai fell 0.81 per cent, Hong Kong was off 0.41 per cent, Kuala Lumpur dipped 0.09 per cent and Sydney retreated 0.56 per cent.

This may be a case of "sell in May, go away" brought forward, said CMC Markets analyst Margaret Yang, referring to the market belief that May is typically a month of heavy sell-offs.

"Aside from the geopolitical issues and caution towards corporate results, the Federal Reserve's shrinking its balance sheet is a big deal, as it implies less liquidity and a pullback of hot money from emerging markets to the United States," she told The Straits Times.

Concerns around the Fed's plan to scale back its balance sheet have persisted since its March meeting summary showed this will happen sometime this year.

But at least there is no need to fear that the losses in the Chinese markets will turn into a crash, Ms Yang added, noting the recent volatility is still "normal" for the main benchmarks there.

Half of the STI's 30 component stocks fell yesterday. Yangzijiang Shipbuilding lost 5.5 cents or 4.91 per cent to $1.065 on 31.3 million shares traded, and Golden Agri-Resources fell one cent or 2.82 per cent to 34.5 cents on trade of 44.8 million shares.

Keppel Corp pared 18 cents or 2.64 per cent to $6.64, and Sembcorp Industries was down six cents or 1.92 per cent to $3.06. Sluggish oil prices - with Brent futures lingering around US$55 a barrel - did little to warm up sentiment towards offshore and marine plays.

Nine STI stocks rose. Singtel gained five cents or 1.35 per cent to $3.76 with 22.2 million shares traded. Singapore Exchange, set to report its results today, added two cents or 0.27 per cent to $7.48.

Amid the market uncertainties, some analysts are keeping their eyes on the small-cap segment for undervalued plays that may offer good returns or growth potential.

Moya Holdings Asia was cited at an RHB conference this week as one such company. The Indonesian water treatment solutions provider - the country's fifth biggest by process capacity - aims to meet the rising need for piped water in Jakarta and surrounding areas.

Its managing director Irwan Atmadja Dinata said: "Only 22 per cent of the population have access to piped water... The industry as a whole should grow three to four times."

Moya closed down 0.2 cent or 2.78 per cent at seven cents, but is still up 32 per cent this year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2017, with the headline 'Uncertainties near and far drag down STI'. Print Edition | Subscribe