The Malaysian stock market has finished higher now in four consecutive sessions, collecting more than 35 points or 4 percent along the way. The Kuala Lumpur Composite Index added to its support above the 900-point plateau, and now analysts say that the market could add modestly to those gains at the opening of trade on Monday.
The global forecast for the Asian markets is generally positive, although many of the markets are already riding significant winning streaks and may be due for a downside correction on profit taking. The test launch of a North Korean rocket over the weekend may add to the sense of unease, as does some weak economic data out of the world's largest economy. The U.S. markets finished modestly higher, and the Asian markers are also tipped to move nominally to the upside.
The KLCI finished slightly higher on Friday, as the financial and plantation sectors posted mild gains and the industrial shares finished barely above the unchanged line.
For the day, the index was up 1.94 points or 0.21 percent to close at 910.74. Volume was 938.355 million shares worth 1.137 billion ringgit. There were 284 gainers and 242 decliners, with 200 stocks finishing unchanged.
Among the actives, KNM Group, Zelan, Gamuda, Tenaga, MISC, Bumiputra Commerce and IOI Corp all finished higher, while Sime Darby was flat and Public Bank, British American Tobacco, Malaysian Resources, Maybank and AMMB Holdings wound up lower.
The lead from Wall Street is cautiously optimistic as stocks suffered considerable uncertainty throughout most of Friday's session, but ultimately closing higher on the day. The lack of direction seen for much of the day came as traders digested weak employment data along with some positive remarks from Fed Chairman Bernanke.
On the economic front, the Labor Department said that non-farm payroll employment fell by 663,000 jobs in March following an unrevised decrease of 651,000 jobs in February. The drop in jobs came roughly in line with economists' expectations of a decrease of 658,000 levels. With the continued decrease in jobs, the unemployment rate rose to 8.5 percent in March from 8.1 percent in the previous month, in line with expectations. The increase lifted the unemployment rate to its highest level since November of 1983.
Separately, the Institute for Supply Management released its report on activity in the service sector for March, showing that its index of activity in the sector unexpectedly fell to 40.8 in March from 41.6 in February, with a reading below 50 indicating a contraction in the sector.
Meanwhile, Bernanke offered encouraging news, saying that programs enacted by the Federal Reserve to unfreeze the credit markets are working. Bernanke praised the actions of policymakers as having lowered the cost and increased the availability of credit.
In the midst of extraordinarily challenging times for the financial system and economy, Bernanke stated that he is confident that growth will be restored.
Additionally, President Barack Obama delivered a speech in Strasbourg, France, focusing on rebuilding the relationship between Europe and America and noting the need for unity across the Atlantic as nations face terrorist and economic threats. The president said that he plans to lay out a plan in Prague over the weekend that will offer a goal of a world without nuclear weapons.
The major averages had some difficulty sustaining any significant moves for much of the session but showed a notable move to the upside going into the close. The Dow closed up 39.51 points or 0.5 percent at 8,017.59, the Nasdaq closed up 19.24 points or 1.2 percent at 1,621.87 and the S&P 500 closed up 8.12 points or 1 percent at 842.50.
In economic news, Malaysia's trade surplus increased to MYR11.97 billion in February from a surplus of MYR8.83 billion in the previous month, the Department of Statistics said Friday. Economists expected the surplus to come in at MYR8.5 billion. In February, exports rose 3.4 percent month-on-month to MYR39.59 billion, while imports decreased 8.4 percent to MYR27.62 billion.
Annually, exports declined 15.9 percent in February, while imports were down 27.3 percent. Economists expected exports to fall 25 percent and imports to drop 28 percent in the month. In the January to February period, the trade surplus stood at MYR20.08 billion. Exports declined 22 percent and imports fell 28.9 percent from the corresponding period in the previous year.
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