SE Asia Stocks-Singapore, Thai lead declines as investors weigh virus impact

By Arundhati Dutta

* China cuts benchmark interest rate to support virus-hit economy * Thai index at lowest since Nov 2016 * Indonesia and Malaysia stocks trade flat By Arundhati Dutta Feb 20 (Reuters) - Stocks in Thailand and Singapore led declines in Southeast Asia on Thursday amid concerns that the coronavirus epidemic is yet to be contained and over its economic impact, despite Chinese stimulus measures to cushion the strain of the outbreak. Economies of Singapore and Thailand have suffered from the epidemic, with Singapore lowering its 2020 growth forecast and Thailand flagging a slump in tourist numbers this year. China reported a large drop in new coronavirus cases but that came along with a jump in infections in South Korea, two apparent deaths in Japan and researchers finding that the virus spreads more easily than previously believed. As widely expected, China cut its benchmark lending rate on Thursday to support its virus-hit economy. Leading declines in the region, Thai shares slumped as much as 1.4% to their lowest since Nov. 22, 2016. The Airports Of Thailand, the biggest laggard in the index, tumbled up to 8% after the airport operator flagged a 5% decrease in full-year revenue as a fallout of the virus. Thailand's bleak outlook for 2020 economic growth was also adding to woes, according to Mongkol Puangpetra, Head of Research at KTB Securities (Thailand). Singaporean stocks dropped as much as 0.6%, with financials posting heavy losses. United Overseas Bank and DBS Group Holdings declined up to 0.9% and 0.8% respectively. "It's risk-off today. Concerns about the coronavirus are surfacing again," said Linus Loo, Head of Research at Lim & Tan Securities. Last week, DBS Group had flagged a 2% reduction in full-year revenue due to the virus impact, which was keeping markets cautious about buying-in financial stocks, according to Loo. Indonesian stocks were trading flat ahead of the central bank's policy decision, while the Malaysian index was also subdued. On the upside, the Philippine index gained as much as 0.9%, with big-cap conglomerates SM Investments and Ayala Land adding up to 2% and 1%, respectively. For Asian Companies click; SOUTHEAST ASIAN STOCK MARKETS AS AT 0515 GMT STOCK MARKETS Change on the day Market Current Previous close Pct Move Singapore 3197.32 3213.71 -0.51 Bangkok 1493.4 1505.54 -0.81 Manila 7462.83 7396.94 0.89 Jakarta 5935.434 5928.791 0.11 Kuala Lumpur 1533.94 1534.16 -0.01 Ho Chi Minh 931.68 928.76 0.31 Change so far in 2020 Market Current End 2019 Pct Move Singapore 3197.32 3222.83 -0.79 Bangkok 1493.4 1579.84 -5.47 Manila 7462.83 7,815.26 -4.51 Jakarta 5935.434 6,299.54 -5.78 Kuala Lumpur 1533.94 1588.76 -3.45 Ho Chi Minh 931.68 960.99 -3.05 (Reporting by Arundhati Dutta; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)