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Singapore shares sink further on Friday, tumble 5.3% on the week

SINGAPORE equities faced heavy selling on Friday en route to their worst weekly performance since August 2011 as the Covid-19 outbreak, initially viewed as a China- or Asia-focused issue, has gone global.

Sentiment has already taken a beating this week as cases in South Korea and Italy surge while US health officials expect a sustained spread of the novel coronavirus to take root there. Investors are now fraught with worry that the economic fallout from Covid-19 could lead to a global recession.

The Straits Times Index (STI) finished at 3,011.08 - its lowest closing since Oct 3, 2018 - after diving 100.62 points or 3.2 per cent.

On the week, the blue-chip index plunged 169.95 points or 5.3 per cent from Feb 21's close of 3,181.03. In February, the index fell 4.5 per cent, its biggest monthly loss since August 2019.

With investors ditching risky assets, the local market was full of activity. Trading volume in the city-state stood at 4.06 billion securities, 3.4 times the 2019 daily average. Total turnover was S$2.93 billion, 2.8 times last year's intraday mean. 

Decliners trumped advancers 463 to 103, while all 30 of the STI's constituents closed in the red.

Venture Corp managed to end the early session as the STI's sole gainer but eventually succumbed to the broad market sell-off. The counter ended S$0.06 or 0.4 per cent lower at S$16.45.    

On Thursday after market close, the electronic manufacturing services firm reported a 10.6 per cent fall in Q4 net profit to S$96.3 million but revenue increased 2.9 per cent to S$932.1 million.

While the Covid-19 outbreak could spell a weak Q1 for Venture, DBS Group Research analyst Ling Lee Keng said the company expects a better Q2 as more customer orders will be fulfilled and backlog from Q1 cleared.

Stronger second-half performance in FY2020 is on the cards due to new product introductions and new partners coming onstream, she wrote in a Friday report where DBS upgraded Venture to "Buy" with a raised target price of S$18.50.

Meanwhile, the local banks all ended firmly lower on Friday. DBS lost S$0.71 or 2.9 per cent to S$24.11, OCBC Bank skidded S$0.30 or 2.8 per cent to finish at S$10.60 and United Overseas Bank closed at S$24.48, down S$0.79 or 3.1 per cent.

"Following sell-offs this week, the banks are now trading at a dividend yield of more than 5 per cent but in the current environment, shares could still go lower," a trader told The Business Times.

Golden Agri-Resources fell 0.5 Singapore cent or 2.4 per cent to 20 cents. The agribusiness player, dropped from the STI in December 2019, saw net profit for Q4 triple to US$239.6 million on the back of rising crude palm oil (CPO) prices during the quarter.

Citi Research analyst Patrick Yau expects CPO to be less impacted by the virus outbreak, given that the majority of demand comes from food needs. However, he said a prolonged Covid-19 disruption could present downside risks if energy prices are depressed.

Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, Australia, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan all closed with losses. Of the lot, China's Shanghai Composite Index and Japan's Nikkei 225 fared the worst, each slumping 3.7 per cent on Friday.