Philippines biggest loser as markets await US Fed rate review

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(Jan 30): Southeast Asian stocks were lower to little changed, with the Philippines leading losses on Wednesday, as investors awaited the US Federal Reserve's policy review and looked toward trade talks between Washington and Beijing.

The Fed is widely expected to leave rates unchanged on Wednesday, as policymakers had made it clear that they plan a "patient" pause in rate hikes, after raising rates gradually last year.

The central bank is taking a wait-and-see approach to further tightening in the face of a global economic slowdown, US federal government shutdown, trade tensions and waning business and consumer confidence.

"With the FOMC policy decision due early tomorrow morning, market sentiments are likely to tread somewhat hesitantly while awaiting Fed chair Powell's press conference where he may shed some light on the intended rate trajectory and balance sheet unwinding process from here," said OCBC Treasury Research, in a client note.

Sharing the limelight for the day is the start of a crucial round of Sino-US trade talks as China's Vice Premier Liu He visits Washington.

People familiar with the talks and trade experts watching the two sparring nations say that, so far, there has been little indication that Chinese officials are willing to address core US demands to protect American intellectual property rights and end policies that Washington says force US companies to transfer technology to Chinese firms.

Philippine shares fell as much as 1.1% in lacklustre trade to hit a one-week low on broad-based losses.

Index heavyweights SM Investments Corp fell as much as 1.5%, while BDO Unibank Inc lost as much as 2.4%.

Malaysian shares fell about 0.2% as gains in consumer cyclicals and industrial stocks were outweighed by losses in utilities and financial stocks.

Malayan Banking Bhd and Hartalega Holdings were the biggest drag on the index, losing as much as 1.3% and 1.8%, respectively.

Investors now await the country's trade balance data due later in the day. A Reuters poll showed Malaysia's exports likely increased 2.4% in December from a year earlier, while import growth is expected to slow to 1.3% from a year earlier in December, after rising 5% the previous month.

Meanwhile, Indonesian stock market climbed as much as 0.4%, helped by gains in technology and utilities stocks.  

SOUTHEAST ASIAN STOCK MARKETS As at 0348 GMT

Market                 Current   Previous close  % move
Singapore              3190.86   3187.69         0.10
Bangkok                1627.83   1624.05         0.23
Manila                 7970.79   8050.82         -0.99
Jakarta                6454.488  6436.48         0.28
Kuala Lumpur           1689.26   1690.41         -0.07
Ho Chi Minh            914.76    915.93          -0.13

Change so far in 2019

Market                 Current   End 2018        % move
Singapore              3190.86   3068.76         3.98
Bangkok                1627.83   1563.88         4.09
Manila                 7970.79   7,466.02        6.76
Jakarta                6454.488  6,194.50        4.20
Kuala Lumpur           1689.26   1690.58         -0.08
Ho Chi Minh            914.76    892.54          2.49