SE Asia Stocks-Most rise as virus fears spur rate-cut hopes in region

By Shruti Sonal

* Thai cuts policy rate by 25 bps * Policy easing steps on cards for Philippines too * Indonesia reports slower-than-expected Q4 GDP growth By Shruti Sonal Feb 5 (Reuters) - Hopes of policy-easing measures led Philippines and Singapore shares to end over 1% higher on Wednesday, while Thai stocks gained after the country's central bank unexpectedly cut its policy rate amid the coronavirus epidemic. Singapore stocks climbed nearly 1.4% to close at their highest since Jan. 27, after the central bank signalled there was room for monetary easing via a weaker currency within the current policy framework, to support an economy sapped by the virus outbreak. Although the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said its monetary policy stance was unchanged, ANZ Research analysts said the "the message is clear. MAS is comfortable, and indeed seemingly welcomes, a weaker exchange rate in light of the economic impact from the 2019-nCoV outbreak". "By making today's comments, they have in effect delivered a de-facto easing via the market", ANZ added in the note. Real estate stocks buoyed the index, with Ascendas Real Investment Trust and UOL Group Ltd gaining over 3% each. The Philippines index closed 1.7% higher, with index heavyweight GT Capital Holdings Inc jumping about 5%. Data showed January inflation was at its highest in eight months, but the outcome was still within the Philippines central bank's comfort range and supported views that it will likely cut rates at its meeting on Thursday. "Given the bleak outlook for global growth and dissipating threats to the inflation outlook, BSP (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) will likely keep its foot on the easing pedal to help bolster sagging growth momentum", Nicholas Mapa, senior economist at ING said. The Thai benchmark index inched up about 1% after the country's central bank cut its benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points in an unexpected move, its third reduction in six months, taking it to a record low of 1.0%. Muangthai Capital PCL and Robinson PCL were up over 3% each. Meanwhile, Indonesian shares gained nearly 1% after data showed that economic growth in the fourth quarter slowed to its weakest pace in three years, leading to hopes of further rate cuts to shield the economy. For Asian Companies click; SOUTHEAST ASIAN STOCK MARKETS Change on the day Market Current Previous close Pct Move Singapore 3200.13 3156.57 1.38 Bangkok 1534.14 1519.38 0.97 Manila 7352.85 7226.9 1.74 Jakarta 5978.51 5922.339 0.95 Kuala Lumpur 1536.79 1535.8 0.06 Ho Chi Minh 925.91 929.09 -0.34 Change so far in 2020 Market Current End 2019 Pct Move Singapore 3200.13 3222.83 -0.70 Bangkok 1534.14 1579.84 -2.89 Manila 7352.85 7,815.26 -5.92 Jakarta 5978.51 6,299.54 -5.10 Kuala Lumpur 1536.79 1588.76 -3.27 Ho Chi Minh 925.91 960.99 -3.65 (Reporting by Shruti Sonal; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)