SE Asia Stocks-End firmer on virus vaccine hopes; Thailand hits 2-1/2 month high

    * Indonesia's keeps policy rate steady
    * Thai stocks hit their highest level since March 6
    * Malaysian shares hit over 4-week high

    By Pranav A K
    May 19 (Reuters) - Southeast Asian stock markets gained on
Tuesday, with Thailand hitting its highest level in more than
two months, as investors cheered positive data from an
early-stage study testing a coronavirus vaccine.
    Asian equities tracked Wall Street's rally on Monday after
drugmaker Moderna Inc's experimental COVID-19 vaccine
appeared safe and showed promise in a small group of healthy
volunteers, according to very early data.
    "The peak-virus trade continues to gather momentum after
last night's Moderna headlines," said Jeffrey Halley, senior
market analyst at OANDA.
    "Moderna's trial is terrific news, but the sample size was
not statistically significant... Thus, in the best-case
scenario, it will probably be another year before normal life
will make a comeback, at best."
    Leading gains in the region, Thai shares rose 1.8%
to close at their highest level since March 6, lifted by
industrial and energy stocks.
    Thai Airways International surged 14.6% and
boosted the index after the cabinet approved a court-led
restructuring of the troubled national carrier.
    Indonesian shares, which rose as much as 2.2% in the
session, closed 0.8% higher after the central bank kept its
policy rate steady against expectations for a cut. 
    Interest rate sensitive bank stocks rose on the news, with
Bank Tabungan Pensiunan Nasional Syariah PT jumping
8.1% and PT Bank Rakyat Indonesia (Persero) surging
    However, Bank Indonesia (BI) pledged to maintain ample cash
in the financial system and said there was room to cut rates in
the future to cushion Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

    "With BI retaining its accommodative stance we continue to
expect more rate cuts in the coming months given expectations
for a contraction in GDP as early as the 2Q," ING Economist
Nicholas Mapa wrote in a note.
    Singapore shares extended gains into a third session,
buoyed by financial and consumer service stocks.
    Malaysian stocks rose 1%, closing at its highest
level since April 20, after the world's biggest edible oil
importer India resumed purchases of Malaysian palm oil after a
four-month gap following a diplomatic row.
    Petronas Chemicals Group climbed 5%, while palm
oil and rubber plantation company Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd
 rose 3.5%.
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 Change on the day                                
 Market                 Current   Previous close  Pct Move
 Singapore              2581.33   2539.28         1.66
 Bangkok                1309.95   1286.53         1.82
 Manila                 5555.85   5479.35         1.40
 Jakarta                4548.656  4511.058        0.83
 Kuala Lumpur           1423.97   1410.16         0.98
 Ho Chi Minh            845.92    837.01          1.06
 Change so far in 2020                            
 Market                 Current   End 2019        Pct Move
 Singapore              2581.33   3222.83         -19.90
 Bangkok                1309.95   1579.84         -17.08
 Manila                 5555.85   7,815.26        -28.91
 Jakarta                4548.656  6,299.54        -27.79
 Kuala Lumpur           1423.97   1588.76         -10.37
 Ho Chi Minh            845.92    960.99          -11.97

 (Reporting by A K Pranav in Bengaluru; Editing by Amy Caren