The Singapore stock market has finished higher now in four consecutive sessions, gathering more than 120 points or 6.5 percent on its way to a fresh eight-month high. The Straits Times Index cracked resistance at 1,900 points, and analysts predict that the market may inch slightly higher at the opening of trade on Thursday.
The global forecast for the Asian markets is mixed with a touch of upside, in spite of some contradictory economic and corporate data. A proposal from U.S. President Barack Obama to overhaul the tax system gave the markets a lift, helping Wall Street to finish in positive territory. The European bourses ended mostly weaker, and the Asian markets are expected to stay close to the unchanged line.
The STI finished modestly higher on Wednesday,
For the day, the index was up 8.97 points or 0.47 percent to close at the daily high of 1,905.99 after dipping as low as 1,853.94. Volume was 3,516.3 million shares worth 1,655.4 million Singapore dollars. There were 494 gainers and 131 decliners.
Among the gainers, Golden Agri finished 8.5 percent higher, while Wilmar added 2.4 percent, Cosco shares finished 6.7 percent higher, CapitaLand rose 2.74 percent and City Developments was 2.28 percent higher.
Bucking the trend, SembCorp Marine was down 4.5 percent and Singapore Airlines ended down 1.4 percent.
The lead from Wall Street is optimistic as stocks moved sharply higher at the close of trading on Wednesday after showing a lack of direction throughout much of the session. The major averages all closed in positive territory after turning in a mixed performance for most of the day. The choppy trading seen for most of the day came as traders digested a slew of economic reports as well as earnings news from some big-name companies.
On the economic front, the Federal Reserve's Beige Book report showed that overall economic activity has contracted further or remained weak, although it said five of the twelve Fed districts noted a moderation in the pace of decline. The Beige Book, a compilation of anecdotal evidence on economic conditions in each of the twelve Fed districts, also noted that several districts saw signs that activity in some sectors was stabilizing at a low level.
Earlier in the day, the Labor Department said its consumer price index fell 0.1 percent in March following a 0.4 percent increase the month before. The decline came as a surprise to economists, who had expected prices to edge up 0.1 percent. Excluding food and energy prices, the core consumer price index rose 0.2 percent for the third consecutive month. Economists had been expecting a 0.1 percent increase in core prices.
Separately, the Fed's industrial production report showed that production fell 1.5 percent in March, while capacity utilization dropped to 69.3 percent. Economists expected industrial production to decline 0.9 percent in March, while capacity utilization was expected to come in at 69.6 percent.
In corporate news, semiconductor giant Intel (INTC) reported first quarter earnings of $0.11 per share on revenues of $7.1 billion. While the results were down year-over-year, they exceeded analyst estimates of earnings of $0.03 per share on revenues of $6.98 billion. However, Intel disappointed investors by saying that was not providing a revenue outlook for the second quarter at this time due to economic uncertainty and limited visibility. Subsequently, shares of the semiconductor giant closed down 2.4 percent.
Meanwhile, Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) announced an increase in its quarterly dividend to $0.44 per share from $0.40 per share on its common stock. The news drove the stock up 3.2 percent.
In other news, President Obama pledged to reform the tax system Wednesday, calling for a simpler tax system that is fair to the middle-class. Speaking on the day that income taxes are due, the president focused on middle class families facing difficult decisions in the recession, and pledged to restructure the tax system.
While the major averages all closed above the unchanged line, the tech-heavy NASDAQ underperformed the Dow and the S&P 500 by a wide margin. The NASDAQ ended the session up 1.08 points or 0.1 percent at 1,626.80, while the Dow jumped 109.44 points or 1.4 percent to 8,029.62 and the S&P 500 closed up 10.56 points or 1.3 percent at 852.06.
In economic news, Singapore retail sales logged an annual decline for the fifth straight month as consumers cut their spending amid rising unemployment and recession. According to Department of Statistics, retail sales were down 5.7 percent over a year ago in February. However, it was slower than January's 12.2 percent drop and 6 percent decline expected by economists. Excluding motor vehicles, sales slipped 10.2 percent.
After adjusting price effect, retail sales volume decreased 8.4 percent, and sales that exclude automobile slid 10.9 percent in February. Compared with January, retail sales showed 15.5 percent decline in February, but increased 10.5 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis. Excluding automobile, retail sales fell 23.4 percent before adjusting seasonal variations.
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