Small-cap stocks hit worst amidst trade war fears

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KUALA LUMPUR (March 23): US President Donald Trump's move to impose import tariff on China sparked a strong selling wave in Asia, particularly shares in China and Hong Kong.

Bursa Malaysia is not spared from the dampened sentiment. Small-cap counters were mainly the selling targets as reflected by the bigger fall of 1.76% on the FBM Small Cap Index versus the barely 0.62% drop on the benchmark FBM KLCI.

The FBM KLCI dropped 11.65 points to end the week at 1,865.22 points, after it climbed to a three-year high yesterday. The benchmark index had hit an intra-day low of 1,857.26 points earlier today before paring some losses. The index is down 1.02% week-on-week.

There is sea of red across Bursa. Losers outnumbered gainers by 827 versus 190, while 320 counters were unchanged. A total of 2.09 billion shares worth RM2.15 billion were traded.

China is leading the fall today, with over 400 stocks hitting limit-down. The Shanghai Composite index slid 3.6% to 3,152.76 points, its lowest close since Feb 9.

Japan's Nikkei plunged 974.13 points or 4.51%, South Korea's Kospi lost 79.26 points or 3.18%, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index closed at its lowest since March 7, after shedding 761.76 points or 2.45% in a day.

On Friday, Trump ordered tariffs on at least US$50 billion in Chinese imports, after introducing hefty metals duties earlier this month. Bloomberg reported that China has planned its retaliation and legal actions against the US at the World Trade Organisation.

"We will have to see how China reacts, but we don't think it will be a trade war, more likely just a rhetoric. Perhaps a renegotiation may be in sight," said Rakuten Trade Sdn Bhd vice president of research Vincent Lau when contacted.

"The Malaysian stock market is fairly resilient compared to the regional bourses. That's because our market has not gone up as much as the rest, and not to mention, our economic fundamentals are sound and foreign reserve is up," he added.

Among the component stocks, Hong Leong Bank Bhd dropped 50 sen or 2.6% to RM18.72 while Hong Leong Financial Group Bhd was down 20 sen or 1.04% at RM19.

Hap Seng Consolidated Bhd and KLCC Property Holdings Bhd both finished 22 sen lower at the closing bell.

Some defensive big-cap consumer stocks buck the market downtrend: Nestle (M) Bhd climbed RM8.20 or 5.8% to RM150, Heineken Malaysia Bhd gained 62 sen to RM21.32 while British American Tobacco (M) Bhd went up 16 sen to RM28.30.

For the week ahead, the closing on Wall Street tonight would set the bearing for Asian markets on Monday.