Stimulus from China and firmer oil prices

SINGAPORE shares gained ground again yesterday, along with most other equities in Asia, on the back of a stimulus move by China and a rebound in oil prices.

The Straits Times Index (STI) rose 15.88 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 2,682.39, posting advances for the third straight session.

The region-wide rally was led by Shanghai with a sturdy 1.7 per cent gain, after the central bank said it has further cut its reserve requirement ratio - the level of cash banks must lock away as reserves - to cushion the economic slowdown.

The country's manufacturing sector continued to shrink last month, according to both the official and private indexes out yesterday.

"We think the People's Bank of China easing is consistent with continued weaker-than-expected economic activity and downside risks to growth," said Jian Chang, an analyst at Barclays, in a Reuters report. "It should help to support market sentiment in the near term."

Hong Kong added 1.6 per cent while Tokyo shook off mid-day losses to climb 0.4 per cent and Sydney gained 0.9 per cent. Wall Street had slipped 0.7 per cent overnight in spite of the higher oil prices, which rose to US$36 a barrel.

The STI's performance was helped largely by the local lenders, with DBS Group Holdings, jumping 26 cents or 1.9 per cent to $13.84, as the counter reversed its losses from the day before.

OCBC Bank climbed three cents or 0.4 per cent to $8.10 while United Overseas Bank edged up four cents or 0.2 per cent to $17.19.

Thai Beverage Public Company also posted strong gains, leaping 3.5 cents or 5 per cent to 73.5 cents, following analyst reports that reiterated a "buy" call on the stock.

The company last week posted a 22 per cent increase in net profit to 26.46 billion baht for the year ended Dec 31. Oil and gas-related plays were up as traders bought in on hopes that crude prices have bottomed out. Sembcorp Marine added one cent or 0.7 per cent to $1.54 while parent company Sembcorp Industries jumped 12 cents or 4.5 per cent to $2.80. Keppel Corporation put on 13 cents or 2.5 per cent to $5.31.

On the other hand, the day's biggest losers included embattled commodity trader Noble Group, which lost one cent or 2.9 per cent to 33.5 cents in heavy trade.

Telco Singtel slid two cents or 0.5 per cent to $3.71 while CapitaLand Mall Trust dropped two cents or 0.9 per cent to $2.17.

Outside the blue chips, Osim International soared 11.5 cents or 10.4 per cent to $1.225, drawing a trading query from the Singapore Exchange in the afternoon.

Offshore support services provider Ezra Holdings was again the top active stock, with 118.2 million units traded.

The stock surged half a cent or 7.8 per cent to 6.9 cents.

Turnover across the bourse was upbeat, with 1.41 billion units worth $1.47 billion changing hands.

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