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Asia300

Earnings lift Singapore shares, Axiata drags Malaysia stocks lower

KUALA LUMPUR (NewsRise) -- Singaporean stocks rose to over 18-month highs, lifted by a slew of upbeat December quarter earnings.

Malaysian stocks edged lower, weighed by decline in index heavyweight Axiata Group after reporting a loss for the fourth quarter

Singapore's FTSE Straits Times index rose 0.5% to 3,318.10 points. Sembcorp Marine jumped 18.2% to S$1.815 and Genting Singapore rose 5.1% to S$1.03 after both companies swung to profit in the December quarter, while Wilmar International slipped for fourth straight session, shedding 2.1% to S$3.67.

Malaysia's FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI slipped 0.2% to 1,704.48. Axiata Group fell 5.6% to 4.3 ringgit after it reported a loss for the fourth quarter, while Genting was amongst the best performers, rising 1.6% to 9.08 ringgit after its unit Genting Singapore reported strong quarterly earnings.

Trading across other Asian markets was quiet today after the release of last Fed meeting minutes on Wednesday. While the minutes signaled uncertainty over U.S. fiscal outlook, many policymakers agreed that it may be appropriate to raise rates "very soon" if inflation and jobs data came in line with expectations. The Fed last raised rates in December, and recent strong economic readings and hawkish comments from the policymakers have raised the odds for another move next month.

"The discussion on fiscal policy did suggest that a portion of Fed members believe that the uncertainty could put the Fed off course for an early hike," said Jingyi Pan, market strategist at IG markets. "Nevertheless, the devil will likely lie in upcoming data, which is the Fed's tool in deciding an adjustment to rates."

Sembcorp Marine chalked its best session since 2008 after it reported a fourth quarter profit of S$34 million as against an S$537 million loss a year ago, and said growth prospects for offshore and marine industry remain positive in the medium-to-long term.

"With OPEC's resolve to support oil prices and stabilization in the oil market, sentiment continues to improve, and the likelihood of impairments has gone down significantly," OCBC Investment Research said in an investor note. It raised the stock to 'buy' and increased the fair value target to S$1.76.

Genting Singapore reported December quarter net profit at S$159.2 million as compared to a loss of S$7.8 million a year ago.

Nomura expects the company's positive momentum to continue, and upgraded the stock to 'buy' citing "improving earnings, sustained higher dividend and positive news flow ahead." It also raised the target price to S$1.16 from S$0.85.

City Developments rose 4.6% to S$9.66. It reported a net profit of S$243.8 million for the fourth quarter, down 40% from a year ago, which was in line with estimates. The company said, funds under management totalled S$3.5 billion, and it was on track to achieve the S$5 billion target by end of 2018.

Singapore Telecommunications slipped 0.5% to S$3.98. It said earlier today that its unit will acquire U.S. firm Turn for $310 million.

Data out earlier today in Singapore showed the country's consumer price index rose for a second straight month in January. The 0.6% year-on-year gain was faster than December's 0.2% increase and followed two years of deflation from November 2014 to October last year and a flat consumer price index in November.

In Malaysia, Axiata Group swung to a net loss of 309.5 million ringgit in the fourth quarter from a profit of 467.3 million ringgit a year ago, dragged down by foreign exchange losses and overseas acquisition costs.

Malayan Banking slipped 0.2% to 8.4 ringgit. The largest Malaysian lender by assets, reported a 43% increase in December quarter net profit to 2.36 billion ringgit, primarily due to decline in overhead expenses and lower net insurance claims. Quarterly net interest income inched up by only 1% to 2.96 billion ringgit.

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