SE Asia Stocks-Rangebound, Philippine weak ahead of rate decision
BANGKOK, March 27 (Reuters) - Southeast Asian stock markets remained rangebound amid weakness in Asian and U.S. stocks while the Philippine benchmark dropped to a one-month low after a wider January budget deficit and ahead of the Philippine central bank's meeting on interest rate policy. Selling in interest rate-sensitive banking stocks such as BDO Unibank and Metropolitan Bank & Trust, with traders staying defensive due to the rate outlook, sent the key Philippine index down 0.5 percent to 6,318.34. The central bank is expected to keep its policy rate steady at a record low of 3.5 percent on Thursday, but hawkish comments from the governor reinforced views interest rates may be raised as early as in the second quarter. For the Philippines budget balance, click Economists at Daiwa Capital Markets said the Philippine central bank may normalise policy interest rate, with the risk of capital flow reversals from the emerging economies likely. "We expect Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), which has kept its overnight borrowing rate unchanged at 3.5 percent for the eleventh straight meeting since September 2012, to begin normalising its monetary policy by raising policy interest rates," they wrote in a report dated March 24. Sentiment in the region was broadly subdued, with stocks in Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia trading cautiously higher while Malaysia and Vietnam hovered in negative territory. In Jakarta, investors bought shares with favourable dividend payouts, including shares of Indonesia's Perusahaan Gas Negara which jumped 2.5 percent on expectations of a 50 percent dividend payout, a trader said. In Bangkok, the SET index traded a tad higher while cautions remained over the domestic political situation. "The SET downside risks are however limited with the quarterly 'window dressing' and the ex dividends of the big cap stocks this week," strategists at broker Maybank Kim Eng Securities. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.1 percent. U.S. stocks fell on Wednesday as geopolitical concerns rose after the United States and the European Union agreed to work together on tougher sanctions on Russia. For Asian Companies click; For South East Asia Hot Stock reports, click; SOUTHEAST ASIAN STOCK MARKETS Change at 0443 GMT Market Current Prev Close Pct Move TR SE Asia Index* 403.48 403.13 +0.09 Singapore 3154.97 3143.32 +0.37 Kuala Lumpur 1839.48 1839.14 +0.02 Bangkok 1361.92 1360.44 +0.11 Jakarta 4747.62 4728.24 +0.41 Manila 6318.34 6348.50 -0.48 Ho Chi Minh 587.16 588.06 -0.15 * The Thomson Reuters South East Asia Index is a highly representative indicator of stocks listed in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. (Reporting by Viparat Jantraprap; Editing by Anupama Dwivedi)
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