SINGAPORE (Nikkei Markets) -- Singapore shares fell for a fourth-day on Thursday as profit taking ahead of the year-end continued to plague markets. Malaysia shares edged higher, led by Sime Darby Plantation.
Singapore's Straits Times Index dropped 0.3% to 3,388.14, the lowest level in three weeks. Transport operator ComfortDelGro and conglomerate Jardine Matheson Holdings led losses on the STI, falling at least 2.2% each.
Fund managers were looking to lock in profits after massive rallies in global equities this year, Margaret Yang, an analyst at CMC Markets, said.
"The drop in the MSCI Asia-Pacific Index for seven consecutive sessions is a clear sign that regional markets have entered technical correction," Yang said, adding that a market pullback of 5% to 8% is healthy. Over the last seven sessions, the STI has fallen slightly more than 5%.
The index's 2% decline this week is almost in line with losses on other major Asian markets. Benchmark gauges in Hong Kong and South Korea have shed 2.3% each this week through Thursday's close.
DBS Group Research said it expects volatility to rise amid uncertainties relating to the U.S. tax plans and the country's debt ceiling limit. Politics is likely to dominate macro cues at a time when valuations for risky assets appear lofty, it said in a note.
While more progress was made on the U.S. tax reform after the country's upper house approved its version of the bill over the weekend, there is more work ahead. The bill passed by the upper house differs in many aspects with the one cleared by the House of Representatives earlier, and both the versions will have to be reconciled for a revote.
Rig builder Sembcorp Marine shed 0.5% after Brent crude prices dropped to one-month lows overnight. The losses in crude prices came despite risks of increasing tensions in the Middle East after U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Singapore Exchange edged 0.1% higher after falling earlier in the day. The local bourse operator late Wednesday reported a 3% decline in total securities market turnover for November.
The Bursa Malaysia KLCI index advanced less than 0.1% to 1,719.05.
Sime Darby Planation jumped 6% to 5.16 ringgit. Maybank Investment Bank initiated coverage on the stock with a "buy" rating and a target price of 5.63 ringgit.
"We like Sime Darby Plantation for its quality assets, size and geographical diversity," Maybank said in a note. "Moreover, the significant value of its freehold land compensates for the modest net profit growth."
Astro Malaysia Holdings slipped 1.1% to 2.77 ringgit after reporting a worse-than-expected 3% decline in third-quarter net profit. Kenanga Investment Bank downgraded the pay-TV operator to "market perform" and lowered the target price to 2.90 ringgit, citing challenging operating environment.
Sapura Energy slumped 20.3% after the oil-and-gas services provider swung to a net loss in the third quarter as business activity slowed and certain rigs went off contract. As many as 128 million shares changed hands, the highest ever.
Halex Holdings jumped 5.5% after the agrochemicals manufacturer said it plans to buy Hextar Chemicals for 550 million ringgit ($135 million).
Consulting firm Retail Group Malaysia on Thursday slashed its forecast for annual retail sales growth at Southeast Asia's third-largest economy to 2.2% from 3.7% - the third such downward revision this year. Caely Holdings, a maker of leather goods and sportswear, dropped 4.4%.
--Joannah Perez and Nimesh Vora