Indonesia rises after surprise trade surplus; Philippines falls

(March 15): The Indonesian stock market rose on Friday after data showed a surprise trade surplus last month, while Singapore and Malaysia rose amid reports of progress in Sino-U.S. talks, which somewhat tempered the cautious sentiment gripping the region.

Indonesian stocks jumped 0.6%, after the largest economy in Southeast Asia posted a surprise trade surplus in February for the first time in five months, as imports unexpectedly fell sharply, according to data from its statistics bureau.

The country had a surplus of US$329.5 million in February, compared with a Reuters poll prediction of a US$700 million gap. 

"The slowdown on imports doesn't necessarily mean that domestic demand is weak. I think part of it is due to the impact of the policymakers' efforts to reduce imports, like selected infrastructure projects... it appears that what they are doing is now having its impact," said Leo Putra Rinaldy, economist at PT Mandiri Sekuritas.

Indonesia has been struggling to reduce its trade deficit, after it hit a record high of US$8.5 billion last year, with authorities raising import taxes and relaxing export rules to narrow the gap.

Financial stocks boosted the benchmark, with Bank Negara Indonesia (Persero) Tbk gaining 2.3%, while Bank Central Asia Tbk rose about 0.5%.

Singapore's index rose 0.4%, driven by financial stocks, with DBS Group Holdings rising 0.6% and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp Ltd advancing 0.4%. 

Reports of headway in trade talks between China, the region's largest trading partner, and the United States appeared to help sentiment, with broader Asian stocks also on the uptick.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He spoke by telephone with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, with the two sides making further substantive progress on trade talks, Xinhua news agency said on Friday.

The Malaysian benchmark ticked up, with glove manufacturer Top Glove Corporation Bhd rising 1.6% and food products retailer Nestle (Malaysia) Berhad up 0.4%.

Meanwhile, Philippine stocks slipped 0.5%, dragged by industrial stocks. Index heavyweights SM Investments Corp and Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Inc dragged the index, slipping 1.6% and 1.5% respectively.

Indexes of Thailand and Vietnam edged lower.

SOUTHEAST ASIAN STOCK MARKETS at 0353 GMT

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