Singapore’s Temasek says its portfolio fell for the first time in four years due to Covid-19

A Temasek Holdings signage at their office in Singapore.
Munshi Ahmed | Bloomberg | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s state investment company Temasek said Tuesday the net value of its portfolio fell for the first time since 2016 as the coronavirus pandemic hit global markets.

The size of Temasek’s portfolio fell to 306 billion Singapore dollars ($223.73 billion) for the financial year that ended March 31, around 2.2% lower than the previous year’s 313 billion Singapore dollars, the company said in its annual report. 

Its one-year shareholder return was minus 2.28%, said the company. But returns were 5% over a 10-year period and 6% over 20 years, it added. Those returns take into account all dividends paid to Temasek’s shareholder, less any capital injections.

Temasek — an active equity investor in both the public and private space — is owned by the government of Singapore, a tiny but wealthy Southeast Asian nation.

Temasek attributed its investment performance in the past year to the spread of the coronavirus disease, or Covid-19, which caused global markets to plunge in March. The company noted markets have recovered since then, but warned of uncertainties such as U.S.-China tensions.

Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara, executive director and chief executive of Temasek International, said both the U.S. and China have been “significant destinations” for the company’s investments in the last five to six years.

He explained that what happens to the U.S.-China relationship can affect other economies and companies that operate globally, and Temasek is keeping a close watch on the developments relating to the two economic giants.  

Going global

The company — a closely followed global investor — invested mainly in Singapore companies in its early days, but has turned into a major global investor in recent years. About three-quarters of Temasek’s portfolio exposure is outside its home country and in places such as China, North America and Europe. Two-thirds of its underlying exposure is in Asia, the report said.

Assets in China accounted for 29% of Temasek’s investment portfolio in the last financial year — the largest geographical share. That was followed by Singapore at 24% and North America at 17%, according to the company’s annual report.

In terms of sectors, the investor has the largest exposure to financial services, which accounted for around 23% of the underlying assets of its portfolio.

Temasek said it continued to invest in the financial services, technology and life science sectors. Overall, the company invested 32 billion Singapore dollars ($23.42 billion) and divested 26 billion Singapore dollars in the last financial year.

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Asia-Pacific stocks rise; Japan’s second-quarter GDP revised lower

SINGAPORE — Stocks in Asia Pacific were higher in Tuesday afternoon trade, as Japan released revised gross domestic product figures for the second quarter.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 advanced 0.8% in afternoon trade while the Topix index gained 0.69%.

Japan’s revised GDP figures for the April-June quarter showed the country’s economy shrinking an annualized 28.1%, according to second preliminary estimates released by the Cabinet Office. It was worse than preliminary estimates released in mid-August, which had shown the country’s economy shrinking 27.8% on an annualized basis in April-June.

Tuesday’s revised GDP figure compared with a median forecast for a 28.6% contraction by economists in a Reuters poll.

Following the data release, the Japanese yen traded at 106.21 per dollar after seeing an earlier low of 106.31 against the greenback.

The April-June period was “definitely the worst quarter” for the Japanese economy since World War II, according to Takuji Okubo, director for North Asia at The Economist Corporate Network. In the medium term, the Japanese economy is “on track to recovery,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Tuesday.

Still, Okubo said concerns remain over the pace of recovery to a level that “seems normal.”

Elsewhere, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index returned to positive territory as it gained 0.52%.

Shares of Chinese bottled water firm Nongfu Spring surged more than 80% from their issue price in their debut in Hong Kong. The stock later pared some of those gains, but was still trading more than 50% higher.

Mainland Chinese stocks edged higher, as the Shanghai composite added 0.77% while the Shenzhen component gained 0.126%.

South Korea’s Kospi rose 0.65%. Shares in Australia also saw gains, with the S&P/ASX 200 trading 0.79% higher.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index gained 0.51%.

Geopolitical tensions

Investors also continued to monitor geopolitical developments after China accused the U.S. of “bullying” as it launched a global data security initiative on Tuesday.

That development came as the U.S. continues to pressure China’s largest tech firms and convince countries around the world to block them. U.S. President Donald Trump also recently entertained the idea of “decoupling” from China, or refusing to do business with the country.

Meanwhile, tensions are also escalating between the U.K. and European Union, putting at risk chances of a post-Brexit trade deal in the coming months.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 93.1 after an earlier low of 93.029.

The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7298 after seeing a momentary fall below $0.726 late last week.

Oil prices were lower in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures down slightly to $41.99 per barrel. U.S. crude futures slipped 1.76% to $39.07 per barrel.

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There’s a ‘huge amount of money’ returning to China in the IPO space, investor says

SINGAPORE — As tensions mount between Washington and Beijing ahead of the U.S. presidential elections in November, Stonehorn Global Partners’ Sam Le Cornu sees more Chinese firms returning home.

“There’s a huge amount of money coming back home in terms of the IPO space,” Le Cornu, who is CEO & co-founder of the firm, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday.

That comes as U.S. President Donald Trump’s rhetoric “is getting harsher and harsher” ahead of the election, he said.

On Monday, Hong Kong-listed shares of China’s largest chip manufacturer Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) plunged more then 20% following reports that the Trump administration is considering imposing export restrictions on the firm.

Le Cornu sees potential investment opportunities in this environment, telling CNBC that the return of Chinese firms is “a huge shot in the arm” in terms of positive sentiment for the Hong Kong stock exchange as well as brokers such as China International Capital Corporation that have been “getting in” on the IPOs in roles such as underwriting.

“There’s money to be made when looking at this activity,” he said, adding that it’s “not one-way in terms of negative sentiment.”

For his part, Le Cornu said his firm is positioned for more listings in Shanghai and Shenzhen on the mainland as well as Hong Kong.

“I think the second half of the year will see an increase … in these IPOs,” the investor said.

Major firms that have found their way back to China through secondary listings on the Hong Kong stock exchange, following listings in the U.S., include: Alibaba, JD.com as well as NetEase.

“The trend is more companies coming home,” Le Cornu said, adding that he expects “a lot more” to follow in the footsteps of JD.com and Alibaba in returning to list in China.

‘Big’ but ‘good’ changes to Hang Seng index

On Monday, tech companies like Alibaba and Xiaomi replaced firms such as Sino Land and Want Want in Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index. Le Cornu described the tweaks as “big” but “good.”

“It certainly changes (the Hang Seng index) from being very much financial heavy,” he said. Pointing to Xiaomi’s index weighting of about 2.6%, Le Cornu said that “puts it ahead” of Bank of China and just behind Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.

“The Hang Seng index has been traditionally … old economy and bank heavy, the investor said. “This will certainly be interesting in terms of the HSI changes.”

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Asia stocks trade mixed; Japan’s second-quarter GDP revised lower

SINGAPORE — Stocks in Asia Pacific were mixed in Tuesday trade, as Japan released revised gross domestic product figures for the second quarter.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 advanced 0.54% in afternoon trade while the Topix index gained 0.3%.

Japan’s revised GDP figures for the April-June quarter showed the country’s economy shrinking an annualized 28.1%, according to second preliminary estimates released by the Cabinet Office. It was worse than preliminary estimates released in mid-August, which had shown the country’s economy shrinking 27.8% on an annualized basis in April-June.

Tuesday’s revised GDP figure compared with a median forecast for a 28.6% contraction by economists in a Reuters poll.

Following the data release, the Japanese yen traded at 106.27 per dollar after seeing levels below 106.2 yesterday against the greenback.

The April-June period was “definitely the worst quarter” for the Japanese economy since World War II, according to Takuji Okubo, director for North Asia at The Economist Corporate Network. In the medium term, the Japanese economy is “on track to recovery,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Tuesday.

Still, Okubo said concerns remain over the pace of recovery to a level that “seems normal.”

Elsewhere, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index shed earlier gains to slip 0.57% lower.

Shares of Chinese bottled water firm Nongfu Spring surged more than 80% from their issue price in their debut in Hong Kong. The stock later pared some of those gains but was still more than 50% higher.

Mainland Chinese stocks also declined, as the Shanghai composite slipped 0.34% while the Shenzhen component fell 1.078%.

South Korea’s Kospi rose 0.64%. Shares in Australia also saw gains, with the S&P/ASX 200 trading 0.75% higher.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index dipped 0.1%.

Geopolitical tensions

Investors also continued to monitor geopolitical developments after China accused the U.S. of “bullying” as it launched a global data security initiative on Tuesday.

That development came as the U.S. continues to pressure China’s largest tech firms and convince countries around the world to block them. U.S. President Donald Trump also recently entertained the idea of “decoupling” from China, or refusing to do business with the country.

Meanwhile, tensions are also escalating between the U.K. and European Union, putting at risk chances of a post-Brexit trade deal in the coming months.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 93.131 after an earlier low of 93.029.

The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7276 after seeing a momentary fall below $0.726 late last week.

Oil prices were lower in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures down 0.14% to $41.95 per barrel. U.S. crude futures slipped 1.91% to $39.01 per barrel.

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Shares of Chinese bottled water giant Nongfu Spring spike 85% in Hong Kong debut

Nongfu Spring’s bottled water in a supermarket in Hangzhou, China.
Costfoto | Barcroft Media | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Shares of Chinese bottled water giant Nongfu Spring surged more than 85% in their debut on the Hong Kong stock market on Tuesday. 

The stock opened at 39.80 Hong Kong dollars per share ($5.14) before inching down to around 35.00 Hong Kong dollars ($4.52). Its initial public offering price was 21.50 Hong Kong dollars ($2.77), allowing the company to raise around $1.1 billion. 

Dickie Wong, executive director of Kingston Securities, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” that Nongfu Spring was “one of the hottest IPO ever” in the history of Hong Kong’s stock market. He pointed out that the IPO was oversubscribed by 1,148 times.

Wong explained that investors are interested in the stock not only for its “fundamentals or its very high profit margin.” He added that there has been a general lack of investment opportunity given that valuations of many stocks — especially technology or internet companies — are high.

“So investors think (participating) in a new IPO is always the best strategy,” he said. 

Investors have also been turning to stocks as interest rates globally remain low, said Fraser Howie, an independent analyst. 

“Ultimately, half the world is operating on negative rates and half of the rest of them is operating on zero rates, and governments keep printing money,” he told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.” 

“The world is awash with money, Chinese stocks are hot,” he added.

Nongfu Spring sold 388.2 million shares in its IPO deal. Its cornerstone investors include fund manager Fidelity, hedge fund Coatue and Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC. Its IPO is one of the largest in Hong Kong this year.

In addition to bottled water, the company produces other packaged drinks such as tea, coffee and fruit juices. The company, citing a Frost and Sullivan report, said it had the largest share in China’s packaged drinking water market from 2012 to 2019.

Nongfu Spring said its 2019 revenue jumped 17.3% to 24.02 billion yuan ($3.51 billion). But in January to May this year, its revenue fell 12.6% year-over-year to 8.66 billion yuan ($1.27 billion) with sales affected by the coronavirus outbreak, the company said.

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Four years on, Philippine President Duterte is still struggling to show the benefits of being pro-China

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in April, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Kenzaburo Fukuhara | Kyodo News | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — After more than four years in power, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is still struggling to show that his country has benefited from a closer alliance with China.

In a dramatic shift in the Philippines’ foreign policy, Duterte declared in 2016 the country’s “separation” from the U.S. — a military ally — and announced closer ties with China.

Among other things, the president also set aside his country’s territorial dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea, in exchange for billions of dollars that China pledged in infrastructure investments.

But much of those promised investments have not materialized and many of those projects were delayed or shelved, while anti-Chinese rhetoric has been growing louder within Duterte’s own government and among the Philippine public.

So on all counts, Duterte is increasingly accused of having abased himself before Beijing and gotten nothing for it.
Greg Poling
Center for Strategic and International Studies

“China has launched just two of the pledged infrastructure projects — a bridge and an irrigation project — and both have hit major snags that could scuttle them altogether,” said Greg Poling, senior fellow for Southeast Asia and director of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  

“Beijing has also not backed off on harassing Filipino forces and civilians in the South China Sea. So on all counts, Duterte is increasingly accused of having abased himself before Beijing and gotten nothing for it,” Poling told CNBC in an email.

Rising domestic political pressure

Duterte’s conciliatory approach toward China is not shared by most of the Philippine public, who continue to view other global and regional powers more favorably.

In a July survey by pollster Social Weather Stations, Filipinos were found to trust the U.S. and Australia more than China. Notably, trust in China was worse than the same survey conducted in December last year.  

Such deterioration in public sentiment against China coincided with the coronavirus pandemic — which ravaged the Philippine economy — and Beijing’s continued aggression in the South China Sea where the two countries have overlapping territorial claims.

All that “increased domestic political pressure on Duterte to recalibrate his pivot to China,” Peter Mumford, practice head for Southeast and South Asia at Eurasia Group, told CNBC via email.

The Philippines in recent months made several foreign policy moves against China that analysts said were noteworthy coming from the Duterte government:

  • In April, the country’s foreign affairs department released a statement that showed solidarity with Vietnam after a Chinese surveillance vessel rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat in the South China Sea;
  • The department released another statement in July on the anniversary of an international tribunal ruling that dismissed China’s claims of nearly 90% of the South China Sea, and called on Beijing to comply with the verdict.  

The Philippines and China have for years clashed over competing claims in the resource-rich waterway where trillions of dollars of global trade pass through annually. The Southeast Asian country — under former President Benigno Aquino III — took China to court.

In 2016, shortly after Duterte took office, an international tribunal ruled that portions claimed by both countries belong to the Philippines alone.

China ignored the ruling, while critics said Duterte did little to demand compliance from Beijing. Even while China-skeptic voices within his administration grew, Duterte stayed largely silent, analysts noted.

Running out of time

As a whole, remarks critical of China from Duterte’s own cabinet “do not signal an imminent shift in the administration’s stance towards China,” said Dereck Aw, a senior analyst at Control Risks.

He explained to CNBC that those comments “should be viewed as deliberate attempts to placate domestic stakeholders, such as growing parts of military and the public, that are skeptical about Duterte’s China policy.”

“Ties between China and the Philippines will remain stable as long as Duterte is president,” he said, adding that Duterte may sometimes turn to “nationalistic rhetoric” to help his preferred successor in the 2022 presidential election.

“But actions speak louder than words: the Duterte administration will continue to deepen economic engagement with China and to refuse to internationalise the South China Sea dispute,” Aw said in an email. 

But with less than two years left in his six-year term, Duterte is running out of time to get the economic results he had wanted from Beijing. 

Eurasia Group’s Mumford noted that despite the largely unfulfilled Chinese promises, Duterte’s argument is that his country is still “better off” in avoiding aggression with China given the “asymmetry of power” between them. 

“Nevertheless, Duterte is coming under increasing pressure to demonstrate the gains from relations with China,” he said.

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Asia stocks set to trade higher; Japan’s revised second-quarter GDP data expected

Stocks in Asia Pacific were set to open higher on Tuesday as investors await the release of Japan’s revised second-quarter gross domestic product data.

Futures pointed to a higher open for Japanese stocks, with the Nikkei futures contract in Chicago at 23,225 while its counterpart in Osaka was at 23,220. That compared against the Nikkei 225’s last close at 23,089.95.

Shares in Australia were also poised to see a positive start to their trading day. The SPI futures contract was at 5,949.0, as compared to the S&P/ASX 200’s last close at 5,944.80.

On the economic data front, Japan’s revised GDP figures for the second quarter are set to be out at around 7:50 a.m. HK/SIN. Preliminary estimates released in mid-August had shown the country’s GDP shrinking 27.8% on an annualized basis in April-June.

Investors will likely continue to monitor geopolitical developments.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday accused Washington of “blatant hegemony” after the U.S. Department of Defense said recently it was considering adding Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation to the Commerce Department’s so-called entity list. Meanwhile, tensions are also escalating between the U.K. and European Union, putting at risk chances of a post-Brexit trade deal in the coming months.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 92.719 after earlier seeing levels above 93.0.

The Japanese yen traded at 106.29 per dollar after seeing levels below 106.2 yesterday against the greenback. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7281 after seeing a momentary fall below $0.726 late last week.

Here’s a look at what’s on tap:

  • Japan: Second-quarter gross domestic product figures at 7:50 a.m. HK/SIN

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Most major Asian markets lower; shares of SMIC in Hong Kong tumble as U.S.-China tech tensions rise

SINGAPORE — Asia-Pacific markets were mixed on Monday, as investors reacted to rising tech tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Mainland Chinese stocks led losses among the region’s major markets on the day, with the Shanghai composite down 1.87% to about 3,292.59 while the Shenzhen component dropped 2.729% to around 13,284.03. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was 0.44% lower, as of its final hour of trading.

Hong Kong-listed shares of Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), China’s largest chip manufacturer, plunged more than 23% during the afternoon trade. It came after a U.S. Defense Department spokesperson said President Donald Trump’s administration is considering imposing export restrictions on the firm.

SMIC is seen as an important player in China’s ambition to grow its domestic semiconductor industry. The potential move by Washington, first reported by Reuters, would mark a major escalation in the tech battle between the U.S. and China.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 closed 0.5% lower at 23,089.95 while the Topix index shed 0.42% to end its trading day at 1,609.74. South Korea bucked the trend, with the Kospi gaining 0.67% to close at 2,384.22. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 also closed 0.33% higher at 5,944.80.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index was 0.27% lower.

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Meanwhile, data from China’s General Administration of Customs showed Monday that the country’s dollar-denominated exports rose 9.5% from a year ago while imports declined 2.1% in the same period.

Economists in a Reuters poll had expected a 7.1% rise in the August export figure from a year ago, while imports were forecast to edge 0.1% higher in the same period.

“We expect export growth to stay robust in the rest of the year as the global economy recovers,” economists at Oxford Economics wrote in a note referring to China’s latest trade data. “We anticipate a record-breaking surge of global growth on the quarter in Q3 due to eased lockdown restrictions, followed by solid, albeit slower, growth in Q4. This bodes well for China’s exports outlook.”

Still, the Oxford Economics economists warned of challenges to the export outlook as other major economies are “facing difficulties amid difficulties to fully contain Covid-19

Oil prices slip

Oil prices slipped in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures down 1.2% to $42.15 per barrel. U.S. crude futures declined 1.26% to $39.27 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 92.951 after its ascent last week from levels below 92.0.

The Japanese yen traded at 106.20 per dollar after weakening last week from levels below 105.6 against the greenback. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7281 after last week’s slip from levels above $0.732.

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China is in for ‘a tough time’ as U.S. targets tech sector, expert says

SINGAPORE — China is in for “a tough time” in the short term as the U.S. tries to deny it access to crucial tech components, a business consultant told CNBC on Monday.

Tensions between the two countries in the technology space heated up over the weekend with the U.S. considering blacklisting China’s largest chipmaker, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation or SMIC.

The measure would restrict SMIC from obtaining specific goods made in the U.S. Even though China has been developing its own semiconductor manufacturing capabilities, companies such as SMIC still relies on American equipment in its production line.

Richard Martin, managing director of IMA Asia, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” that China may have to “look elsewhere” for supply of semiconductors if SMIC’s ability to produce them is crippled by the U.S. move.

“The problem with looking elsewhere is if you go to Europe or if you go to Japan, the companies in Europe and Japan are using U.S. machinery at some point in their production process. And therefore … they can be hit by this U.S. effort to choke it off,” he said.

“So what China needs to do is move the entire supply chain into China,” he added.

Such effort may take years given that SMIC is still “a long way” behind its rivals in terms of chip-making capabilities, said Martin.

“That’s going to be the big drive,” he said. “It’s going to take them two or three years to get past this and move the whole supply chain into China.”

The US flag is seen ahead of a welcome ceremony with U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 9, 2017.
Nicolas Asfouri | AFP | Getty Images

Analysts from Jefferies estimated that 40% to 50% of SMIC’s equipment is from the U.S. They said in a Sunday note that a ban on exports to SMIC — and potentially other Chinese semiconductor producers — is a “lose-lose proposition.”

They explained that China is a major buyer of equipment to produce semiconductors and is expected to account for around 24% of global purchases this year. Therefore, blacklisting companies such as SMIC could also hurt makers of the equipment, including those from the U.S., the analysts said.

The U.S.-China tech dispute is part of a broader conflict between the world’s top two economies. While a damaging tariff war has been halted, the two countries have recently clashed over a wide range of issues that include the origin of the coronavirus and Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Before the announcement of SMIC’s potential blacklisting, the U.S. had made other moves against Chinese tech players, noted Martin. That includes requiring foreign manufacturers using American chip-making equipment to get a license before selling semiconductors to Huawei, he said.

“They’ve really been trying to close down the China tech sector.”

— CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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Asia stocks mixed; shares of SMIC in Hong Kong plummet as U.S.-China tech tensions rise

SINGAPORE — Asia-Pacific markets were mixed in Monday trade, as investors reacted to rising tech tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Mainland Chinese stocks shed earlier gains and were lower by the afternoon, with the Shanghai composite down 0.16% while the Shenzhen component shed 0.74%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was fractionally higher.

Hong Kong-listed shares of Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), China’s largest chip manufacturer, plunged nearly 20% by the afternoon. It came after a U.S. Defense Department spokesperson said President Donald Trump’s administration is considering imposing export restrictions on the firm.

SMIC is seen as an important player in China’s ambition to grow its domestic semiconductor industry. The potential move by Washington, first reported by Reuters, would mark a major escalation in the tech battle between the U.S. and China.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 was 0.35% lower while the Topix index shed 0.22%. South Korea’s Kospi was 0.75% higher. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 traded fractionally lower.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index was little changed.

Zoom In IconArrows pointing outwards

Meanwhile, data from China’s General Administration of Customs showed Monday that the country’s dollar-denominated exports rose 9.5% from a year ago while imports declined 2.1% in the same period.

Economists in a Reuters poll had expected a 7.1% rise in the August export figure from a year ago, while imports were forecast to edge 0.1% higher in the same period.

Oil prices slip

Oil prices slipped in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures down 1.01% to $42.23 per barrel. U.S. crude futures declined 1.21% to $39.29 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 92.872 after its ascent last week from levels below 92.0.

The Japanese yen traded at 106.26 per dollar after weakening last week from levels below 105.6 against the greenback. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7283 after last week’s slip from levels above $0.732.

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