Southeast Asia stocks - Indonesia rises on surprise trade surplus, Philippines ends higher

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03/15/2019 | 11:10 am
(Reuters) - Most Southeast Asian stocks advanced on Friday, with Indonesia gaining after the nation posted a surprise trade surplus in February, while Philippines erased losses to end higher as January remittances rose.

Indonesian stocks jumped 0.8 percent, gaining 1.2 percent during the week, after the country posted its first trade surplus in five months in February, as imports unexpectedly fell sharply, according to data from the statistics bureau.

The country had a surplus of $329.5 million in February, compared with a Reuters poll prediction of a $700 million deficit.

"The slowdown in imports doesn't necessarily mean that domestic demand is weak. I think part of it is due to the impact of the policymakers' efforts to reduce imports, like selected infrastructure projects... it appears that what they are doing is now having its impact," said Leo Putra Rinaldy, economist at PT Mandiri Sekuritas.

Indonesia has been struggling to reduce its trade deficit, after it hit a record high of $8.5 billion last year, with authorities raising import taxes and relaxing export rules to narrow the gap.

Meanwhile, Philippine stocks reversed course, wiping out the day's loss of 0.6 percent to close with as much gains.

The index was boosted by real estate stocks, with SM Prime Holdings Inc and Ayala Land Inc rising 3.5 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively.

Fortunes of the index changed after data released by the Philippine Central Bank showed that the country's January remittances rose 4.4 percent from the previous year to $2.484 billion.

Noting that median estimates had pegged growth to settle at 4 percent for January, ING said in a note, "Remittances continue to provide a steady stream of foreign currency but have yet to break out of the 3-5 percent growth range they have been stuck in recent years."

The data appeared to help the market shake off the subdued sentiment that had prevailed after the Philippines on Wednesday cut its 2019 GDP growth target, citing a delay in final legislative approval of the budget.

Malaysian stocks also rose, with food products manufacturer Nestle (Malaysia) Berhad gaining 0.5 percent and lender Hong Leong Bank Bhd adding 2.6 percent.

Vietnam index edged lower, snapping three straight sessions of gains, but was the best performer during the week, gaining about 1.9 percent.

(Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Editing by Shreejay Sinha)

By Rashmi Ashok

Thomson Reuters 2019
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