Most SE Asian stocks gain on US stimulus boost, Singapore down on growth outlook cut

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(March 26): Most South East Asian stocks rose on optimism around a massive US stimulus package, although Singapore shares fell after the city-state cut its annual growth forecast to better reflect the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic.

The US Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a US$2-trillion bill aimed at helping unemployed workers and industries hurt by the virus outbreak.

Indonesian stocks were poised for their best session in 6½ years, playing catch-up after a holiday to surge 7.5% to make up for the heavy buying in the region it missed on Wednesday.

The financial and consumer sectors drove gains, with Bank Central Asia jumping 19.9% and household goods maker Unilever Indonesia surging 14.1%.

Philippine shares gained 4.9%, with property developers SM Prime Holdings Inc and Ayala Land gaining 9.6% and 6.7%, respectively.

The Malaysian index moved 0.7% higher, with gains led by telecom and utilities stocks, while Thai equities added 0.5%. 

Thailand has put into effect a state of emergency until the end of April, sealing off its borders from non-resident foreigners to contain the virus, though it held off on restricting people's movement inside the country

At odds with the regional trend, Singapore stocks eased as much as 2.9% after its economy contracted more than expected in the first quarter.

However, the index pared most losses to trade 0.7% lower as the passage of the US stimulus bill boosted confidence. 

Singapore also cut its full-year GDP forecast and is set to announce more relief measures later in the day, weeks after unleashing multi-billion dollar packages. 

"The probability of (Singapore) entering a technical recession... is rising as consumer-based services are likely to take a hit following the introduction of more restrictive measures," Zhu Huani, analyst at Mizuho Bank said in an note.

Financial and telecom stocks led declines, with lender DBS Group Holdings and telecom operator Singapore Telecommunications losing 3.6% and 5%, respectively.