SE Asia Stocks-Most markets climb as virus spread slows; Singapore leads

By Arundhati Dutta

* Sentiment remains fragile due to worries about coronavirus * Singapore set to snap four-day losing streak * Indonesia extends gains for a third straight session * Vietnam expects to export 6.75 mln tonnes of rice in 2020 By Arundhati Dutta Feb 19 (Reuters) - Most Southeast Asian stock markets inched higher on Wednesday, with Singapore leading the pack, as a slight decline in the number of new coronavirus cases lifted risk appetite. Investors are also holding on to hopes that China - the region's largest trading partner - would roll out more stimulus to support its virus-hit economy, especially for a cut in its benchmark loan prime rate due to be announced on Thursday. The number of new virus cases fell for a second straight day, even as the death toll in mainland China crossed 2,000 on Wednesday. "Overall it appears that the equity markets are somewhat more optimistic, and are looking through the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak," Maybank said in a note. Providing a fillip to sentiment was China's decision to cut some pension contributions and insurance fees to help companies cope with the coronavirus, while firms in Hubei province - the epicentre of the outbreak - won't have to pay pensions, jobless and work-injury insurance until June. The Singaporean index was on track to snap a four-session losing streak, lifted by gains in heavyweight financials United Overseas Bank and DBS Group Holdings . The Philippine index added as much as 0.6%, with conglomerates SM Investments and Ayala Land advancing up to 2.3% and 5.8%, respectively. Shares in Vietnam were set to snap a three-session losing streak, with consumer staples gaining the most. Food processing firm Masan Group Corp advanced as much as 4%. Aiding sentiment further was the statement from a government official that the country expects to export 6.75 million tonnes of rice this year, up 6% on-year. The Indonesian benchmark rose for a third straight day, with gains underpinned by the consumer discretionary sector. Conglomerate PT Astra International Tbk was up as much as 2.5%. Investors await the central bank's rate decision due on Thursday, while a slim majority of analysts polled by Reuters expect the bank to resume its easing cycle to provide a cushion for the expected economic impact from the coronavirus outbreak. Thai shares jumped on energy stocks. For Asian Companies click; SOUTHEAST ASIAN STOCK MARKETS AS AT 0359 GMT Change on the day Market Current Previous close Pct Move Singapore 3217.5 3196.63 0.65 Bangkok 1518.87 1513.68 0.34 Manila 7366.7 7322.89 0.60 Jakarta 5915.631 5886.962 0.49 Kuala Lumpur 1532.42 1537.08 -0.30 Ho Chi Minh 929.47 927.93 0.17 Change so far in 2020 Market Current End 2019 Pct Move Singapore 3217.5 3222.83 -0.17 Bangkok 1518.87 1579.84 -3.86 Manila 7366.7 7,815.26 -5.74 Jakarta 5915.631 6,299.54 -6.09 Kuala Lumpur 1532.42 1588.76 -3.55 Ho Chi Minh 929.47 960.99 -3.28 (Reporting by Arundhati Dutta; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)