SE Asian stocks rise, Philippines gains on hopes of monetary policy ease

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BENGALURU (Jan 24): Southeast Asian stock markets rose on Thursday, with the Philippines leading the pack as investors expect the country's central bank to ease monetary policies after data showed the economy grew slower than expected in the fourth quarter of 2018.

The Southeast Asian economy grew 6.1% in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, slightly faster than the previous quarter's 6.0%, but below the 6.2% seen in a Reuters poll. That brought full-year growth of 6.2%, below the government's downwardly revised target of 6.5-6.9% and 2017's pace of 6.7%.

Some economists say if growth slows more, the central bank, which hiked rates five times in 2018 by 175 basis points in total to battle high inflation, could loosen policy this year.

"We can see the BSP (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) slashing RRR (reverse repo rate) further in the first quarter followed by a possible policy rate cut in the second quarter to help bolster growth for the second half of the year," Nicholas Mapa, a senior economist with ING, said in a note.  

The benchmark Philippine stock index rose 0.9% to its highest close in over 10 months, buoyed by financials and industrials.

Index heavyweights Universal Robina Corp and Bank of the Philippine Islands gained 3.5% and 2.1%, respectively.

Malaysian stocks rose 0.3% after data showed lower-than-expected December inflation and the central bank held rates.

The consumer price index rose 0.2% in December from a year earlier, below the 0.4% forecast in a Reuters poll.

The central bank kept its key interest rate at 3.25% as widely expected and said the economy was expected to remain on a steady growth path in 2019.

Materials and financials were among the top gainers with Malayan Banking Bhd rose 0.8%, while Petronas Chemicals Group Bhd firmed 1.2%.

Meanwhile, a trading mishap in Singapore's Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd sent the benchmark stock index down as much as 0.6% before it recovered.

Shares of Jardine Matheson briefly tanked 83.5%, losing nearly US$41 billion in market value, before recovering in what traders said was likely a "fat finger" error when 167,500 shares changed hands at US$10.99 compared to Wednesday's close of US$66.47.

Jardine Matheson closed 0.5% higher.

Change on the day

Market                 Current   Previous close  % move
Singapore              3190.73   3171.11         0.62
Bangkok                1620.53   1617.38         0.19
Manila                 8064.9    7989.65         0.94
Jakarta                6466.655  6451.17         0.24
Kuala Lumpur           1693.59   1688.14         0.32
Ho Chi Minh            908.79    908.18          0.07

Change so far in 2019

Market                 Current   End 2018        % move
Singapore              3190.73   3068.76         3.97
Bangkok                1620.53   1563.88         3.62
Manila                 8064.9    7,466.02        8.02
Jakarta                6466.655  6,194.50        4.39
Kuala Lumpur           1693.59   1690.58         0.18
Ho Chi Minh            908.79    892.54          1.82