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Disappointing export data drags STI

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Shares down 0.45%; analysts flag slower full-year GDP forecast for 2019

Concerns over gross domestic product (GDP) growth dragged the Singapore bourse down yesterday, after the morning's print of non-oil domestic export (Nodx) figures for December showed declines for a second straight month.

The Straits Times Index (STI) headed down for most of the day to close at 3,214.44, down 0.45 per cent or 14.67 points.

Turnover on the bourse was 1.7 billion securities worth $961.41 million, and losers outnumbered gainers 206 to 167.

Economists forecast Nodx to rebound 2 per cent in December, but were disappointed with a 8.5 per cent year-on-year decline instead, on the back of broadly weaker performances in just about every sector.

No single geopolitical event like the US-China trade war fully explained the overall decline either, ING's chief economist and head of research for Asia-Pacific Robert Carnell said, observing that Singapore's exports to the two countries actually improved.

He said the data "almost certainly will result in a downward revision" to ING's 1.6 per cent quarter-on-quarter estimate for Q4, and may lower its full-year 2018 estimate of 3.3 per cent. This may also lead ING to ease its full-year GDP forecast for 2019 from the current 2.5 per cent, Mr Carnell said.

"A weak end to one year always makes it arithmetically harder for the following year to score well. It also lends weight to our view that the Monetary Authority of Singapore will not be conducting any more tightening of monetary conditions through the nominal effective exchange rate index this year."

United Overseas Bank economist Barnabas Gan said he expects Singapore's external environment to slow further in 2019 but added that he remained positive, with full-year Nodx growth projected at 1 per cent.

"Accounting for the ongoing US-China trade tensions and US-centric economic risks surrounding its government shutdown, there remains to be downside risks to our trade outlook into the year ahead," he said.

Ezion Holdings led active trading for a third straight day, with 77 million shares traded. The liftboat-focused firm gained 0.1 cent or 2 per cent in the session to close at 5.1 cents. Meanwhile, ThaiBev ended its nine-day winning streak, down one cent or 1.38 per cent to 71.5 cents on volume of about 14 million shares.

The usually thinly-traded QT Vascular saw 17.1 million shares change hands, bumping its share price up 0.1 cent or 14.29 per cent to 0.8 cent.

The medtech company said on Wednesday that it was expanding an ongoing study for one of its products to include the use of an additional surgical procedure, after receiving approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Including the use of atherectomy in the study will expand the potential use of QT Vascular's product in hospitals and outpatient labs, said a co-principal investigator of the study.

The excitement has begun to wear off for CapitaLand, which made headlines earlier this week with its $11 billion acquisition of Temasek unit Ascendas-Singbridge.

Trading volumes returned to normal, with about 6.2 million shares changing hands. The counter closed at $3.28, down two cents or 0.61 per cent. It had gained 0.92 per cent over the previous two days, on volumes of 20.4 million shares traded the day after the announcement and 9.7 million on Wednesday.

The Singapore bourse is heading into the corporate earnings season, and about a third of the STI constituents will be reporting quarterly or full-year results over the next four weeks.

Singapore Press Holdings kicked things off last week with its first-quarter results, and will be followed by CapitaLand and CapitaLand Mall Trust next week.

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