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Singapore shares buck regional trend, dip 0.2% on Monday

SINGAPORE equities were mostly lower on Monday, bucking the regional trend with the Straits Times Index's (STI's) heavyweights - with the exception of Singtel - among the laggards.

The local benchmark retreated 5.95 points or 0.2 per cent to close at 3,187.97. Jardine Matheson Holdings (down US$2.52 or 4.5 per cent to US$53.70) and Jardine Strategic Holdings (down US$0.85 or 2.7 per cent to US$30.90) were the main contributors to the STI's subpar showing.

The banking trio also played their part in the STI's relative underperformance to regional benchmarks. DBS Group Holdings dropped S$0.12 or 0.5 per cent to S$25.13, OCBC Bank eased S$0.03 or 0.3 per cent to S$10.75 while United Overseas Bank closed at S$25.77, down S$0.05 or 0.2 per cent.

In contrast, Singtel had a stellar showing, closing at a four-month high after advancing S$0.08 or 2.4 per cent to S$3.46 with 52.7 million shares traded, the most among STI counters. 

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Interest in the telco was attributed to its Indian associate Bharti Airtel announcing on Sunday that prices of its prepaid services will increase from Dec 3.

Among Asia-Pacific markets, Australia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan closed markedly higher.

On Monday, regional investors had much cause for optimism even though there were trade deal worries after Beijing warned of "strong countermeasures" after US President Donald Trump passed the Hong Kong pro-democracy bill into law last Wednesday.

The bright spark driving risk-friendly sentiment in the region was the slew of better-than-expected manufacturing data from China, where most notably, official manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) reading for November showed expansion for the first time in seven months.

China's official service sector PMI, as well as the Caixin manufacturing PMI, which focuses more on smaller- and medium-sized firms, also beat estimates.

Vishnu Varathan, Mizuho Bank's head of economics and strategy for the Asia & Oceania treasury, acknowledged in a note to clients that the "surprise recovery" in official factory data has triggered "some optimism". He added: "This is not unjustified, but relief should not be mistaken for cheer." 

In Singapore, investor optimism was most evident in the cyclical tech sector, where tech handler manufacturer AEM Holdings surged S$0.16 or 8.9 per cent to S$1.96 and UMS Holdings closed S$0.03 or 3.3 per cent higher at S$0.935.

Trading volume on the Singapore bourse stood at 888.19 million securities, 77 per cent of the daily average in the first 10 months of 2019. Meanwhile, total turnover clocked in at S$975.74 million, 93 per cent of the January-to-October daily average.

Across the market, advancers pipped decliners 186 to 177. The blue-chip index had 11 of its 30 counters in the red.