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Singapore shares continue slide, lose 0.5% amid cautious mood

WITH doubts remaining over whether a "Phase One" trade agreement will be signed before further tariffs on Chinese imports kick in on Dec 15, some investors in Asia have taken their "bets" off the table during Tuesday's mixed session.

AxiTrader chief Asia market strategist Stephen Innes noted that "investors have been de-risking and are showing little appetite to add to new equity positions before Christmas".

Like in the previous session, Singapore's Straits Times Index (STI) spent most of Tuesday flat before heading decidedly lower in the last hour of trading to end at 3,162.89, a retreat of 16.93 points or 0.5 per cent.

Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, most benchmark indices fared similarly to the STI, including Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan, which all posted slight losses. On the other hand, China posted small gains while South Korea was the region's best performer, with the Kospi Index adding 0.45 per cent or 9.35 points to finish at 2,098.00.

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In the weeks leading up to Sunday's implementation of tariffs on US$160 billion of Chinese goods, observers noted investors remain squarely focused on developments - even if they lack detail - towards a trade deal.

Oanda Asia-Pacific senior market analyst Jeffrey Halley still believes that an interim trade agreement is possible, "but maybe not probable before (Dec 15)". He added: "Given the tortuous path that has been walked to even get to this point, I dread to think of what will be required to reach a comprehensive one."

In Singapore, trading volume stood at 1.04 billion securities, 87 per cent of the daily average in the first 11 months of 2019. Meanwhile, total turnover clocked in at S$1.10 billion, just over the January-to-November daily average.

Across the market, decliners trumped advancers 219 to 157. Of the blue-chip index's 30 counters, 22 were in the red.

Among the STI's biggest losers on the day was index heavyweight Singtel, which dropped S$0.08 or 2.3 per cent to S$3.35 with 45.2 million shares traded.

Traders speculated that the telco's performance could have been due to news reports in India where CNBC-TV18, citing sources, said Singtel is considering investing between US$700 million and US$1 billion in its Indian associate Bharti Airtel. Investor interest in Singtel grew in late-November after Bharti Airtel first announced that it will be raising tariffs for phone plan prices from Dec 3.

Meanwhile, the local banks continued their retreat. DBS Group Holdings edged down S$0.06 or 0.2 per cent to S$24.95, OCBC Bank dipped S$0.02 or 0.2 per cent to S$10.62, while United Overseas Bank closed at S$25.31, down S$0.15 or 0.6 per cent.

In the second line, MindChamps closed 2.5 Singapore cents or 5.2 per cent lower to S$0.46. Shares in the pre-school operator fell by as much as 24.8 per cent to S$0.38 on Monday afternoon, which prompted a query from the Singapore bourse.