KUALA LUMPUR – While blue chips struggled to advance on Wednesday, lower liners and penny stocks – linked to technology and oil – continued to see heavy churning but the broader market stayed firm.

At 5pm, the KLCI was down 2.52 points or 0.14% at 1,744.67. Turnover rose to 4.44 billion shares valued at RM3.47bil. There were 612 gainers, 353 losers and 350 counters unchanged.

Foreign funds have been piling into blue chips in March while local institutions and retail investors seized the opportunity to take profit.

Chinese stocks rose on Wednesday led by the Shanghai benchmark posting its best day in eight months, as investors cheered Beijing’s decision to launch a new economic zone in Hebei province, sending shares of several related firms surging by the daily limit of 10%, Bloomberg reported.

The ringgit firmed up against the US dollar to 4.4310 from 4.4312 and rose against the Singapore dollar at 3.1643 from 3.1669. However, it weakened against the pound sterling to 5.5225 from 5.5107 and slipped against the Euro to 4.7284 from 4.7239.

Crude palm oil for third-month delivery rose RM65 to RM2,696 per tonne.

Among the plantations, TAHPS fell 30 sen to RM6.70, KL Kepong 30 sen to RM24.62 and Genting Plantations 16 sen down at RM11.50 while PPB Ggroup shed two sen to RM16.68 bu Sime Darby eked out a one sen gain to RM9.32 and IOI Corp two sen to RM4.65.

Among the financial and banks, Hong Leong Bank fell the most, down  26 sen to RM13.74 and wiped out 0.95 of a point, while Aeon Credit lost 16 sen to RM15.86. Maybank shed five sen to RM8.95, AmBank two sen lower at RM4.85, CIMB lost one sen to RM5.56 and RHB Bank was flat at RM5.23.

Genting Bhd ended the day down 14 sen to RM9.46 and erased 0.89 of a point. Genting Malaysia lost two sen to RM5.50 while power giant Tenaga added two sen to RM13.76.

Oil hit a one-month high near $55 a barrel on Wednesday as a fall in US crude inventories raised hopes OPEC-led supply cuts were clearing a glut, while an outage at the largest UK North Sea oilfield lent support, Reuters reported.

US light crude oil jumped 63 cents to US$51.66 and Brent added 69 cents to US$54.86. Petronas Dagangan added eight sen to RM24.10 and Petronas Chemicals two sen higher at RM7.77 but Petronas Gas fell six sen to RM19.74.

Lower liners and penny oil and gas stocks were actively traded following the recovery in oil prices. Bumi Armada added six sen to 81.5 sen while Sumatec gained 0.5 sen to 7.5 sen.

Technology-related counters climbed with Dagangan Next warrants WD up six sen to 26.5 sen and the shares added 6.5 sen to 46.5 sen.

Excel Force rose 17 sen to RM1.80 and its warrants 18 sen higher at RM1.33.

GHL Systems closed up 12 sen to RM1.60 after its tie-up with AliPay, extending its gains from hitting limit-up the previous day.

As for consumer stocks, Ajinomoto rose 52 sen to RM16.60, Kawan Food 38 sen to RM4.63 and Heineken 18 sen higher at RM18.32. BAT fell six sen to RM46.06 while Dutch Lady slumped 58 sen to RM56.86.

George Kent was among the top performers following its recent successes in securing construction jobs including the LRT 3. It rose 19 sen to RM4.37.

Among the key regional markets,

Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 0.27% to 18,861.27;

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index gained 0.57% to 24,400.80;

CSI 300 jumped 1.38% to 3,503.89;

Shanghai’s Composite Index added 1.48% to 3,270.31;

Hang Seng China Enterprise gained 0.49% to 10,365.32;

Taiwan’s Taiex jumped 1.41% to 9,949.48;

South Korea’s Kospi shed 0.01% to 2,160.85 and

Singapore’s Straits Times Index ended 0.08% lower at 3,176.55.

Spot gold fell US$3.44 to US$1,252.84.