SINGAPORE (Nikkei Markets) - Shares in Singapore and Malaysia advanced this week, joining a global rally in equities, as a pro-European Union candidate's victory in the first round of French elections allayed concerns about the future of the bloc.
Emmanuel Macron, seen by investors as market friendly, is in favor of France staying with the E.U. Polls have consistently put Macron well ahead of his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen in the May 7 faceoff. Investors, energized by the prospects of his win, bought into risk assets this week to push equity markets higher. The benchmark French index climbed to its highest level since 2008 and the German gauge hit lifetime highs earlier this week, before retracing marginally. The Nikkei Asia300 was down 0.3% on Friday, but rose over 2% this week.
"Optimism on Macron is underpinned by the notion that he will help stabilize the Union and build a stronger support mechanism," AmBank Research said in a note on Friday. "In contrast, Le Pen wants to take France out of the E.U. Although the election is not over yet, it appears that investors are starting to take comfort."
Singapore's FTSE Straits Times index rose 0.13% to 3,175.44 on Friday, helped by a rally in banks after United Overseas Bank reported a better-than-expected 5.4% increase in net profit for the March quarter. DBS Group Holdings and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. added at least 0.6% each, extending their advance since last Friday to 3.1% and 2.2%.
For the week, the benchmark index closed 1.1% higher. CapitaLand rose 3.9% this week after reporting a 77% jump in profit after tax and minority interest for the first quarter. City Developments rose 5.6%.
Prices of private residential properties in Singapore fell 0.4 % in the first three months of this year, compared with a 0.5% decline in the previous quarter, according to Urban Redevelopment Authority data released Friday. The take-up of all residential properties increased 27.9% as prices fell and buyers returned to the market. Meanwhile, rental prices for private residential properties fell 0.9% following a 1.0% decline in the last quarter of 2016.
Sembcorp Marine, down 6% this week through Thursday, rose 1.6% in Friday trading. Late Thursday, the rig builder reported a 28% decline in first-quarter profit.
With crude oil prices continuing to trade in the $50-$55 per barrel band, demand for drilling solutions "is weak to almost non-existent," RHB Research said in a note, maintaining its neutral rating on the stock. "On a more encouraging sign, Sembcorp Marine mentioned that enquiries for non-drilling solutions, offshore platforms and floaters have started to pick up."
M1 rallied 6.4% this week, the best in 16-months, amid reports of its top shareholders looking to sell their stake in the telecom operator.
In economic data, Singapore's labor market worsened in the first quarter of 2017 with unemployment rising to a seasonally adjusted 2.3%, the highest in seven years, according to flash estimates released by the Ministry of Manpower on Friday.
The FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI was almost unchanged at 1,768.06 on Friday. For the week, it rose 0.7% to near two-year highs. Financials outperformed amid expectations earnings of Malaysian banks will pick up after remaining little changed over the last three years.
British American Tobacco Malaysia lost 2.3% this week, among the worst performers on the KLCI, after reporting a more than one-third decline in net profit for the March quarter.
Tenaga Nasional rose 0.6% on Friday after reporting a 12% rise in net profit for the first quarter.
DiGi.Com slipped 0.2% after reporting a 6.5% decline in net profit for the quarter.
Malaysia Airports Holdings rose 1.3% after first-quarter profit increased almost four times on year.
--Nimesh Vora and Kevin Lim
--Nikkei Markets is a real-time financial news service for South East Asia's markets published by Nikkei NewsRise Asia Pte Ltd, a Nikkei and NewsRise joint venture company. Nikkei Markets provides wide companies coverage in the region, including the Nikkei's Asia300 companies.