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Singapore bourse mauled by flood of negative news

Confluence of bad news sparks another big sell-off here and in the region

Wall Street's precipitous overnight fall, more pounding of oil prices, China anxiety, the Royal Bank of Scotland's ominous "sell everything" cry.


WALL Street's precipitous overnight fall, more pounding of oil prices, China anxiety, the Royal Bank of Scotland's ominous "sell everything" cry. And then entering this perfect storm, a terror blast in Jakarta.

Where else could most regional markets go on Thursday but down?

If pundits who foresee a big crash soon are to be believed, the bears could prevail in the markets for a while longer - or, as well-known investor Jim Rogers suggests, perhaps even for "a couple of years or more".

The chairman of Rogers Holdings in Singapore told The Business Times: "We're all going to have problems. Although some parts of the world economy will be fine, very few will escape.

"All of us are victims of what has happened in the past eight years, with lots of money-printing that has been artificially propping up the markets."

On Thursday, the hardest-hit major South-east Asian stock market wasn't Indonesia's, rocked as it was by explosions and gunfire. Yes, the stocks there tumbled following news of the blast, but the Jakarta Composite index recouped some losses after its central bank cut interest rates and closed 0.3 per cent lower.

Instead, the Singapore bourse was where the gloom rubbed off big time, with the benchmark Straits Times Index (STI) shedding nearly 2 per cent or 52 points to 2,644.6.

Voyage Research chief executive Roger Tan, referring to the STI's poor showing, said: "Low trade volume due to lack of interest in the local bourse means that upward momentum is hard to sustain, while downward momentum is hard to reverse."

China bucked the trend and regained its footing after slipping nearly 3 per cent earlier. The Shanghai Composite closed nearly 2 per cent up amid a volatile session. Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 0.4 per cent, while Japan's Nikkei 225 tumbled 2.7 per cent.

Intense selling in Wall Street overnight on Wednesday had pushed the Dow 2.2 per cent lower; the S&P 500 shed 2.5 per cent, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq, 3.4 per cent.

Overwrought investors clung on to their risk-off gear and snubbed China's better-than-expected latest trade data, choosing instead to focus on its growth woes and volatile oil prices, which traded at below US$30 a barrel for the first time in a decade.

Hugh Young, managing director of Aberdeen Asset Management Asia, said: "I think investors are clutching at straws from one specific item to another. We can also argue that they are waking up to the reality that the world economy is in poor state."

Signs are emerging in the global economy that manufacturing production stumbled in the final quarter of 2015 in the US and China, the world's two largest economies, said Deutsche Bank. "Trade remains stagnant while inflation is dormant. Corporate profits seem to have peaked, wage growth is muted and investment is lacklustre," it added.

Global markets have begun 2016 on a turbulent note; over US$5 trillion in equity value are estimated to have been wiped out so far, much of it led by China's growth concerns and uncertainty over its central bank's exchange rate policy.

The cons of a large one-off devaluation of the yuan "far outweigh" the pros, said Nomura Research, adding that this includes setting off a turmoil in Asian markets and causing credit stress on foreign-exchange debt.

But long-time market experts say the current market rout has been building up for months, no thanks to an endless supply of cheap money that has led to inflated asset prices.

As Mr Rogers put it: "Whenever you have an artificial anything, it creates an unfair situation and we are paying the price for it. It's beginning now. China is not the cause (of the market rout). It is having problems because the world is having problems. It is more a victim."