Most South-east Asian stock markets posted small gains on Thursday as investors remained on the sidelines for a lack of economic cues while uncertainties around the French elections over the weekend kept global risk appetite muted.
The sense of caution was exacerbated by weakness on Wall Street and overnight decline in commodity prices, especially oil. Several energy stocks in Southeast Asia had declined in the previous session as crude oil fell to a two-week low. Oil prices regained some lost ground on Thursday with a slight drop in U.S. crude inventories stoking hopes that a global supply overhang might slowly retreat.
Asian stocks excluding Japan rose 0.2 percent on bargain hunting after falling 0.5 percent in early trades. The index lost nearly 2 percent in the last four sessions. The French presidential elections will be closely watched as the stakes for investors are high, with two anti-EU, anti-euro candidates among the four seen still in contention to make it to a second round two weeks after Sunday’s ballot.
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Singapore shares rose 0.2 percent, helped by industrials and financials, while oil and gas and telecom stocks remained weak. Jardine Matheson Holdings recovered from the previous day’s losses to gain 1.3 percent. Oil rig builder Keppel Corp fell 1.5 percent, while Sembcorp Industries declined as much as 1.6 percent to its lowest since early January.
Indonesian shares see-sawed after resuming trade following a holiday on Wednesday for gubernatorial elections in Jakarta. Polls showed that incumbent Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, seen by some analysts as foreign investor-friendly, had lost his bid for re-election by a big margin. The Indonesian rupiah weakened 0.26 percent.
Investors will also look out for the central bank meeting later in the day, where it is widely expected to keep its benchmark interest rate steady, according to a Reuters poll. Thai shares edged up, led by industrials with Airports of Thailand up nearly 2 percent. However, Vietnam shares were 0.5 percent lower.