Keppel Land rises; Singapore index down on weak China data

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Shares in Keppel Land gained on Thursday, outperforming Singapore's stock market that echoed sluggishness in Asian markets as investors remained cautious about Chinese manufacturing data.

Keppel Land shares rose as much as 2.5 per cent to a near three-week high of $3.34.

The property arm of Keppel Group said its fourth-quarter net profit before fair value gain rose 22 per cent year-on-year.

Overseas earnings rose 64 per cent on stronger contribution from China.

MayBank Kim Eng maintained a "buy" rating on Keppel Land with a target price of $4.60, saying it expected property demand in China to remain healthy, while Vietnam was showing early signs of a possible recovery.

"For 2014, we expect Keppel Land to maintain its focus on growing its operations in China, where demand from upgraders and first-timers can be sustained in our view," MayBank said in a research note.

CIMB maintained a "hold" rating on the stock with a target price of $3.51, expecting Chinese housing headwinds to build up as liquidity tightens and cooling measures continue to be strictly enforced. Keppel Land's slowdown in local development makes its earnings profile highly volatile, CIMB said.

The benchmark Straits Times Index was down 0.8 per cent at 3,110.25 as of midday, on course for its biggest daily decline in nearly three weeks. Trading volume was barely half of its 90-day daily average.

The MSCI broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 1.2 per cent, after the HSBC Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) for China fell to 49.6 in January, from December's 50.5, suggesting a mild slowdown at the end of 2013 has continued into the new year.

DBS Group Holdings was heading for its biggest daily loss in almost four months after a Reuters report said on Wednesday it was in advanced talks to buy Societe Generale's Asian private bank.

Hongkong Land Holdings, the worst performer on the index, was headed for its biggest daily loss in more than three months, shedding 2.5 per cent to an intra-day low of $6.24.