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Singapore shares little moved to close out 2019 trading

IN line with usual end-of-year behaviour, traders that were active turned to closing their positions, resulting in most of Asia's equity markets closing the decade with a loss-making session.

That said, Singapore's Straits Times Index (STI) closed little moved at the end of Tuesday's half session. It closed at 3,222.83, up just 0.39 point.

But that doesn't tell the full story of market activity in the city-state on New Year's eve. The STI whipsawed, trading as much as 0.4 per cent higher shortly after the session commenced on trade optimism, before retracing those gains.

As markets head into a new year, they were handed a gift from the US-China trade front. On Monday, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said the likely signing of the "Phase One" deal will happen in the earlier half of January. Meanwhile, the South China Morning Post reported that Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He will lead a delegation to Washington on Saturday to put pen to paper on the agreement.

"These developments serve as another confirmation that relations between the two are on track to recover, which could lift markets when they reopen for 2020 trading," a dealer told The Business Times.

AxiTrader chief Asia market strategist Stephen Innes acknowledged the worst-case scenario was averted but markets always look forward. He said: "But once the 'Phase One' deal is signed, investors will then press to consider the 'Phase Two' risks, after all, how much more progress can be realistically expected ahead of the US elections (in 2020)."

With trading for the year done and dusted, the STI added 0.9 per cent in December. The blue-chip index notched up 5 per cent of gains in 2019. 

Thai Beverage, which dipped 0.5 Singapore cent or 0.6 per cent to S$0.89 on Tuesday, was the STI's top performer of the year. It gained 45.9 per cent this year.

Meanwhile, Dairy Farm International, which fell US$0.02 or 0.3 per cent to US$5.71 on Tuesday, was the STI's biggest laggard. It shed 36.9 per cent this year.

On New Year's eve, trading volume in Singapore clocked in at 713.44 million securities while total turnover stood at S$618.45 million.

Decliners beat advancers 182 to 120. Fourteen of the benchmark's 30 counters ended in the red.

Among STI counters, Yangzijiang Shipbuilding was the most actively traded. Shares in China's largest non-state shipbuilder edged down S$0.01 or 0.9 per cent to S$1.12 with 40.6 million shares changing hands.

Meanwhile, Mermaid Maritime was the Singapore bourse's most active counter with 61.1 million shares traded. It lost 1.6 Singapore cents or 10.6 per cent to 13.5 cents after revealing its associate has secured contract extensions worth US$199 million for two of its jack-up drilling rigs. Mermaid shares surged 31.3 per cent on Monday before the announcement.

Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, Australia China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Taiwan were all lower. Markets in Japan and South Korea were closed for the New Year holidays.