Regional volatility casts shadow on local stocks, STI down 42 points

SINGAPORE - Local equities on Monday caved amid continued volatility in the region, following China's surprise move last week to devalue its currency.

The benchmark Straits Times Index (STI) fell 41.58 points, or 1.34 per cent, to 3,072.67.

The weak sentiment here - little helped by a poor showing in the latest non-oil domestic export data - mirrored that in Hong Kong, where the Hang Seng Index fell 0.74 per cent as traders anticipate more strain on the currency.

"We believe the renminbi will still face further depreciation pressure as the weak economic environment warrants further monetary easing measures, while the US interest rate hike is likely to come as soon as next month," said Mr Alex Fan, a research director at GF Securities, in a research note.

Mainland Chinese stocks, however, took a breather as the Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index rose 0.72 per cent, after the central bank assured that there are no further basis for depreciation in the currency.

At home, commodities blue chip Noble Group was among the day's biggest losers as it continued to buckle, sliding 3.5 Singapore cents or 7.14 per cent to 45.5 cents.

The counter was the day's most heavily traded, with 78.2 million shares changing hands.

CMC Markets analyst Nicholas Teo noted that trading restrictions placed on the stock by certain brokers could have been part of the push behind the selldown.

The local lenders fared poorly as well, as UOB dropped 70 cents or 3.4 per cent to S$19.88 and DBS Group lost 48 cents or 2.49 per cent to S$18.78. OCBC Bank pared 16 cents or 1.64 per cent to S$9.60.

Offshore support services firm Ezion Holdings stood out with a 6.5 cent or 9.97 per cent plunge to 66 cents, against a persistently bleak outlook for oil prices.

KGI Fraser Securities noted that the firm's second-quarter performance - net profit fell 36.3 per cent to US$28.96 million, down from a year ago - was below expectations , putting out a "sell" call on the stock.

Bourse operator Singapore Exchange was one of the few bright spots in the market, climbing five cents or 0.661 per cent to S$7.62, while Thai Beverage rose 0.5 cents or 0.654 per cent to 77 cents.

Elsewhere in the region, Japan's Nikkei 225 Index climbed 0.49 per cent despite a contraction in its economy, mirroring the positive sentiment in Wall Street last Friday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average had added 0.4 per cent as Wall Street stocks regained footing on solid US economic data.

IG market strategist Bernard Aw expects attention to be on the next set of minutes from the Federal Reserve policy meetings, set to be released on Wednesday.

"Markets are still quite divided on the probability of a rate hike by Fed in September, so the minutes as well as the US inflation data may provide some clarity for market speculators," he said.