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Singapore shares slide 1.2% on Monday as Covid-19 worries grow

SINGAPORE equities resumed their slide on Monday as sentiment worsened due to a spike in cases of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in South Korea as well as signs the virus has established a foothold in Italy after a cluster emerged there.

Vishnu Varathan, Mizuho Bank's head of economics and strategy for the Asia and Oceania treasury, noted that fears of secondary infections growing rapidly outside China have "come home to roost". This, he added, has resulted in risk assets taking a hit as market participants rush for safe-havens like gold. Spot prices for the yellow metal were comfortably over US$1,660 per ounce during the Asian trading session.

With that in mind, the Straits Times Index was lower from the opening bell. The benchmark index extended its early losses as the session wore on to finish at 3,142.20, shedding 38.83 points or 1.2 per cent.

The blue-chip index closed at its lowest level since Feb 3 and had all but one - Singtel - of its 30 components closing in the red.

Singapore's largest telco was up for most of the session before dipping late to close unchanged at S$3.10. A remisier who spoke to The Business Times said: "Singtel, which is trading at a five-month low, could continue to see interest in the coming days due to recent price weakness."

The local banks, which had recently reported Q4 results that were in line with expectations, all ended lower. DBS Group Holdings fell S$0.23 or 0.9 per cent to S$24.85 while OCBC Bank eased S$0.10 or 0.9 per cent to S$10.92. United Overseas Bank (UOB) fared the worst, ending at S$25.28, down S$0.40 or 1.6 per cent.

On UOB's outlook, Jefferies Singapore analyst Krishna Guha noted: "Given the uncertain economic outlook, growth and margin guidance has been lowered while credit cost is likely to see a spike in the near term.

"While regional exposure and IT investments should augur well in the medium term, near-term uncertainty poses downside risk to earnings," added Mr Guha, who downgraded UOB to "hold" and lowered its price target to S$27.00.

Venture Corporation shares fell S$0.69 or 4.1 per cent to S$16.08 ahead of its Q4 FY2019 results release on Feb 27. Analysts are split on the outlook for the electronics manufacturing services firm. JPMorgan lowered Venture to "underweight" and cut its price target to S$14.70 last Saturday.

On the other hand, RHB Research and UOB Kay Hian upgraded the company to "buy" with target price of S$19.30 and S$19.62 respectively. They are anticipating a better-than-expected Q4 FY2019 performance from Venture and an earnings recovery in FY2020.

Trading volume in Singapore was 1.80 billion securities, 52 per cent over the 2019 daily average but total turnover came to S$1.56 billion, 47 per cent of last year's intraday mean. Across the broader market, decliners outpaced advancers 384 to 112.

Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, equity benchmarks in Australia, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan were in a sea of red.  

Of the lot, South Korea's Kospi Index fared the worst, diving 83.80 points or 3.9 per cent to 2,079.04, its steepest single-day decline since October 2018. Japan was closed.