The Malaysian stock market has finished lower now in back-to-back sessions following the three-day winning streak in which it gained more than 25 points or 3.5 percent. The Kuala Lumpur Composite Index fell through support at 970 points, and now analysts are projecting further declines at the opening of trade on Wednesday.
The global forecast for the Asian markets is fairly pessimistic as concerns over the spread of swine flu continue to weigh on investors. Some slightly better than expected economic data provides a bit of optimism, as does some mixed corporate news. The European markets ended sharply lower and the U.S. markets ended barely below the unchanged line, and the Asian markets are tipped to follow the latter lead.
The KLCI finished sharply lower on Tuesday thanks to continued profit taking from last week's win streak. The plantations and the financial sectors finished with major losses, while the industrial shares ended with more modest declines.
For the day, the index shed 14.42 points or 1.47 percent to close at 965.70 after trading between 963.35 and 982.41. Volume was 1.562 billion shares worth 1.312 billion ringgit. There were 568 decliners and 127 gainers, with 146 stocks finishing unchanged.
Among the decliners, AirAsia was down 0.9 percent, IOI Corp dropped 4.6 percent and Maybank lost 3.6 percent, while Talam, KNM, UEM Land, Ramunia, Sime Darby, Bumiputra-Commerce and MISC also finished lower.
The lead from Wall Street is virtually flat with a touch of downside as stocks showed a lack of direction throughout the trading day on Tuesday after failing to sustain an initial downward move. The major averages bounced back and forth across the unchanged line before eventually ending the session modestly lower. The choppy trading came as traders digested mixed economic and corporate news combined with continued concerns that the swine flu outbreak may become a pandemic.
In economic news, the Conference Board released a report earlier in the day showing that its consumer confidence index increased by much more than expected in April, reflecting a significant improvement in consumers' assessment of the short-term outlook. The report showed that the consumer confidence index jumped to 39.2 in April from an upwardly revised 26.9 in March. Economists had expected the index to increase to 29.7 from the 26.0 originally reported for the previous month.
Separately, a report from Standard and Poor's showed that the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price Index fell at an annual rate of 18.6 percent in February, a modest deceleration from the 19.0 percent drop in prices that was reported for January.
In other news, the Wall Street Journal reported that regulators are pushing Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup (C) to raise more capital following early results of the government's stress test analysis, generating some concerns about the results of the tests. The Journal said that the capital shortfall amounts to billions of dollars at Bank of America. The report specified that executives at both banks are objecting to the preliminary findings from the government's examination.
Meanwhile, an increase in the number of confirmed cases of swine flu has led the World Health Organization to raise the level of its influenza pandemic alert to Phase 4. At the same time, the WHO does not recommend that countries close borders or restrict travel.
The major averages moved to the downside in the latter part of the trading day, ending the session just below the unchanged line. The Dow closed down 8.05 points or 0.1 percent at 8,016.95, the NASDAQ closed down 5.60 points or 0.3 percent at 1,673.81 and the S&P 500 closed down 2.35 points or 0.3 percent at 855.16.
In economic news, the Malaysian central bank will hold its monthly monetary policy meeting on Wednesday and then announce its decision on interest rates. Analysts are split on the rate call, with some expecting the bank to leave them on hold at 2 percent - while others are expecting a reduction of 25 basis points to 1.75 percent.
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