SINGAPORE (Nikkei Markets) - Shares in Singapore and Malaysia kicked off the quarter on a positive note, even as investor attention remained firmly on the outlook for U.S. economic and trade policies ahead of a meeting between Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The Nikkei Asia300 Index, which tracks over 300 of the region's most influential companies, rose 0.5%, shrugging off weak Wall Street cues. U.S. President Trump is due to meet his Chinese counterpart on April 6 and 7; a meeting he last week warned would be "very difficult" after raising concern about a growing U.S. trade deficit. On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve will release minutes of its March meeting, where it raised rates by 25 basis points. U.S. nonfarm payrolls data for last month will be out Friday.
"We may expect plenty of volatility coming through in the week. Against the backdrop of policy uncertainties from the new U.S. administration, economic data is expected to play a key role in influencing trade," said Jingyi Pan, market strategist at IG. "All eyes will be on Trump and Xi's first meeting," she said, adding that "any animosity created could perhaps dent markets on both ends."
Sentiment in Asia also improved after the Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' index (PMI) showed Asia's largest economy continued to expand. The reading slipped to 51.2 last month from 51.7 in February, but remained well above the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction. Chinese markets are closed Monday and Tuesday for public holidays.
Singapore's FTSE Straits Times index rose 0.4% to 3,187.51. Yangzijiang Shipbuilding Holdings was the top performer, adding 3.1% after saying it secured new shipbuilding contracts worth $318 million in the first quarter of 2017. The contracts are scheduled for delivery from next year through 2020.
Developers CapitaLand and UOL Group rose 1.1% and 0.4%, shrugging off flash estimates from Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority on Monday that showed private residential prices dipped 0.5% quarter-on-quarter in the first three months of 2017. Analysts expect prices to continue falling this year as developers seek to clear inventory to avoid government penalties on homes not sold within a stipulated period of time.
Raffles Medical Group advanced 1.1%. On Monday, the hospital operator said it will develop a 700-bed international tertiary general hospital in Liangjiang New Area, Chongqing, China.
The FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI snapped a three-session losing streak to rise 0.3% to 1,745.49. AMMB Holdings, down 4.7% last week, rose 4.3% to 4.85 ringgit and IJM Corporation recouped all of last week's losses, advancing 2.9%. Among the main losers on the KLCI Monday, Axiata Group shed 1.8% to 4.97 ringgit.
Foreign investors purchased 1.14 billion ringgit ($257.6 million) of Malaysia shares last week, buying more than 1 billion ringgit for a third consecutive week, according to MIDF Research.
"Malaysia can claim to be the most favored South-East Asian emerging market in 2017 among global investors, based on foreign liquidity flow on Bursa," MIDF said in a note.
--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.