Most regional markets racked up gains yesterday, but local investors failed to keep shares in the black after a gloomy afternoon session.
The post-lunch hangover left the Straits Times Index (STI) down 5.12 points, or 0.16 per cent, to 3,201.15.
The index held onto early gains before the midday break, then took a bumpy ride down after local retail sales data showed a 6 per cent year-on-year decline in December and a 0.7 per cent slump for last year.
Meanwhile, markets in China, South Korea and Japan edged higher on hopes that the United States and China could work out their differences as they resume trade talks in Beijing.
But gains were capped by tensions from the presence of two US Navy warships in a Chinese-claimed part of the South China Sea and uncertainty over trade talks.
"Due to the complexity of the trade issues... markets are probably not putting too much hope on the talks to yield a major breakthrough," CMC Markets analyst Margaret Yang noted.
"What concerns us is whether the tariffs deadline can be removed or extended beyond March 1, because that will bring material impact to growth and earnings."
Losers here outnumbered gainers 210 to 184 on trade of 1.15 billion shares worth $969.22 million.
Market activity should pick up in the next two to three weeks heading into the thick of the earnings season, said Mr Marcus Toh of Phillip Capital.
The three banks plus Venture Corp and CapitaLand will likely see movement when they report full-year results next week.
Yesterday's actives included Ezion Holdings, which closed up 4.44 per cent to 4.7 cents on trade of 83.4 million.
Mapletree Industrial Trust retreated 1.97 per cent to $1.99 on volume of 12.7 million units.
The trust said yesterday that it had closed a private placement exercise, issuing 103.36 million new units at $1.945 per unit, or a 4.2 per cent discount to its Monday close.
The placement raised about $201 million, mainly to finance the acquisition of 18 Tai Seng Street.
RHB Research has initiated coverage on ESR Reit with a "buy" call and target price of 61 cents. Analyst Vijay Natarajan noted that benefits from the trust's recent merger with Viva Industrial Trust are starting to flow through.
ESR Reit closed flat at 51.5 cents.
TSH Corp closed down 18.42 per cent to 31 cents on its first day of trading after a reverse takeover by the owners of liquor group Sloshed!.