Nov 11, 2013

    Tapering jitters may haunt bourse

    The Straits Times

    THE exuberance on Wall Street has so far not rubbed off in a significant way on the Singapore stock market.

    But one big worry is the potential impact on local blue chips when the stock-market rally finally comes to an end in the United States.

    On Friday, the US economy shrugged off the US government's partial shutdown by adding a massive 204,000 jobs last month.

    The big upward revisions to August and September job numbers also suggested that the US economy is finally on the mend, five years after the eruption of the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

    Now, the reason most frequently cited for the US Federal Reserve staying its hands in September on tapering its US$85-billion (S$106-billion) monthly purchase of debt securities was due to the apparent slowdown in job growth which suggested that the US economy was still mired in a slowdown.

    But with the latest three-month average growth in payrolls hitting over 200,000 jobs, this significantly increases the chance of the US central bank slowing down its debt-security purchases when its rate-fixing meeting comes up next month.

    Traders, who recall the jitters which regional markets had to endure before the Fed stopped rattling its tapering sabre, wonder if the next few weeks may prove to be just as nail-biting as the debate revives again over the US central bank's next move.

    As it is, the Singapore market has already quietened down a lot, as all but the most driven traders have been turned away by the penny-stock fiasco which wiped over $10 billion in market value off small-capitalised counters.

    There are also few catalysts to energise blue chips as the quarterly reporting season draws to a close, with biggies such as the banks reporting results that were largely in line with analysts' expectations.

    For most of last week, the benchmark Straits Times Index hovered in a tight trading range at just above the 3,200 support level, before succumbing to selling pressure on Friday to end 24.85 points down at 3,177.25.

    Since January, the STI has risen only 0.3 per cent. This means that its gains are far lower than Wall Street's widely watched S&P 500 Index, which has advanced 24 per cent over the same period.

    Even corporate fund-raising activities on the Singdollar debt market have slackened in the wake of the tapering jitters that have hit the region since May.

    So far this year, companies have issued about $16.7 billion in bonds and other debt securities. This is well below the $30.56 billion worth of bonds sold by them last year.

    On the corporate front, the biggest event this week is the shareholders' meeting convened by Fraser and Neave to split its property arm from the rest of its businesses on Wednesday.

    While the move is likely to prove a winner among its shareholders as the company may be worth more if it is broken up, holders of the $800 million worth of bonds issued by F&N are unhappy that they have not been offered enough of a sweetener to wave the deal through.

    Shareholders may also press F&N management for an update on the ongoing spat it has with its joint-venture partner in a Myanmar brewery whose earnings makes up a sizeable chunk of its profits.