SET stays below 1,500

The SET Index briefly climbed above the 1,500 mark on Friday but failed to stay there as investors took profits ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday.

The Stock Exchange of Thailand Index fell 2.51 points, after rising as high as 1,509.57, to close at 1,497.30, down 0.1% from the previous Friday's close of 1,499.22. Turnover was 56.6 billion baht, with 13.39 billion shares traded.

The average trading value of four baht per share reflects a continuing trend toward speculation in penny stocks, which SET officials have warned against.

Foreign investors were net sellers of 2.57 billion baht worth of Thai shares, and local brokers sold 464.22 million. Local institutions were net buyers of 2.17 billion baht while retail investors were net buyers of 859.6 million.

Recent foreign selling has reduced their net-buy position for the year to date to 5.9 billion baht, from nearly 16 billion at the end of last week.

World stock markets were mostly higher on Friday, spurred by better-than-expected trade data from China.

Exports rose 25% in January from a year earlier, the government reported, while imports soared 28%. A large part of the increase was due to companies rushing to fill orders before shutting down for up to two weeks for the Lunar New Year holidays that begin on Sunday.

European stocks rose in early trading. Britain's FTSE 100 was up 0.5%, Germany's DAX added 0.4% and France's CAC-40 advanced 0.6%.

Wall Street was poised for a higher opening after a Thursday session of losses. Dow futures rose nearly 0.1% to 13,909 and S&P 500 futures advanced 0.1% to 1,506.70.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.2% to 23,215.16, South Korea's Kospi advanced 1% to 1,950.90, and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.7% to 4,971.30. Benchmarks in Singapore and China also rose.

Japan's Nikkei 225 tumbled 1.8% on profit-taking to 11,153.16, slumping after a recent 3.8% rally spurred by a weakening yen.

"The market is due for another pullback as it remains overheated and ripe for profit-taking, especially with the holiday-extended three-day weekend coming up," said Hiroichi Nishi, general manager of equities at SMBC Nikko Securities.

"The energy in the market remains very strong, however."

Some analysts believe the yen's weakness, which has helped struggling exporters, may have bottomed out.

Many stock markets across Asia, including those in China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, will be closed on Monday for the Lunar New Year. Hong Kong's holidays run through to Wednesday while the China and Taiwan exchanges will be closed all week. Japan's markets are also closed on Monday.

In Bangkok, the SET50 index of blue chips ended at 995.90 points, down 4.03 points, with total trade value of 31.13 billion baht. The SETHD index of high-dividend shares fell 6.75 points to 1,283.88, with turnover of 12.84 billion baht. The Market for Alternative Investment shed 0.96 to 452.44 points, with transaction value of 5.61 billion baht.

The five most active shares by value were PTT, falling 45 satang to 350 baht; TMB Bank, up 6 satang to 2,36 baht; SCB, down 2.50 to 174 baht; the Skytrain operator BTS, up 10 satang to 8.30 baht; and Advanced Info Service (ADVANC), down 4 baht t0 203.

In the currency market, the baht was little changed, trading late Friday in Bangkok at 29.77/79 to the dollar, compared with 29.74/76 on Thursday and 29.78/81 a week earlier.

Thai government bonds had a second weekly rally as international investors increased holdings, lured by high yields advantage over developed nations. The baht declined.

The 10-year yield fell to the lowest level this year after global funds bought $1.1 billion more sovereign debt than they sold in the week through Thursday, according to figures from the Thai Bond Market Association.

Thailand's policy interest rate is 2.75%, compared with a maximum of 0.25% in the US and 0.1% in Japan.

"The relatively higher yields attract fund inflows," said Tohru Nishihama, an economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute in Tokyo. "The currency retreated [on Friday] amid concern that the authorities in countries with high dependence on exports may take actions to slow gains."

The yield on the 3.625% bond due in June 2023 declined 14 basis points this week to 3.55%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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