* Philippine shares close at around 2-1/2-month high
* Philippines is Asia’s best performing market so far
* Analysts warn rally may not sustain, Duterte factor a risk (Adds share performance, updates levels)
By Enrico Dela Cruz and Neil Jerome Morales
MANILA, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Philippine shares jumped to their highest in more than two months on Tuesday, extending a run of gains driven by bargain-hunting foreign investors that have made it Asia’s best performing market so far this year.
Despite the index’s climb above 7,000 points for the first time in almost a month, analysts sought to temper expectations of a sustained rally, warning the volatility that marked the nation’s stocks and led to declines last year, could return.
Data from the Philippine Stock Exchange show net foreign buying of 1.8 billion pesos ($37 million) in the first five trading days of 2017.
Thursday’s net foreign buying of 727.9 million pesos was the biggest since Oct. 19 last year when net foreign buying hit nearly 1.1 billion pesos.
Investors cheered economic growth prospects at home and an extended post-election rally on Wall Street, setting aside domestic concerns, particularly the political risk that President Rodrigo Duterte’s erratic behaviour could unleash.
Duterte, who began a six-year term on June 30, is facing allegations of human rights violations for his bloody war on drugs and criticism for his foul-mouthed outbursts at its close ally, the United States, and some big donors and investors.
“The Duterte factor, that’s on the backburner,” said Luis Limlingan, managing director at brokerage Regina Capital Development Corp in Manila.
From being one of the most battered markets in the region last year, the Philippines currently leads a rally in Southeast Asia with a nearly 8 percent gain so far. Philippine stocks were the third worst performing in Asia in both dollar and peso terms in 2016, behind those of China and Malaysia
Singapore shares are up over 4 percent, followed by Vietnam shares with a more than 3 percent gain. Other Southeast Asian markets are up less than 2 percent.
On Tuesday, the Philippine share market ended up 1.2 percent at 7,364.34 points, its highest close since Oct. 28, 2016.
“Investors see value in Asia,” said Helen Go Oleta, Trust Trading head at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp in Manila, citing their interest in Philippine assets in particular, such as dollar-denominated and peso-denominated securities and the peso.
First Metro Investment Corp, the investment arm of the Philippines’ second-largest lender in asset terms, the Metrobank Group, expects the key index to reach 7,500 points this year, with conglomerates, consumer, retail and banking as its preferred sectors.
BDO Capital and Investment Corp set a more conservative forecast of 7,300 by year-end.
The peso has risen about 0.5 percent this week, recovering from 8-year lows seen in the latter part of 2016 on expectations of firmer U.S. interest rates which sent the dollar higher and on fears that Donald Trump’s protectionist stance could hurt Asia’s export-reliant economies.
But the sustainability of such gains is uncertain.
“Caution will be there,” RCBC’s Oleta said. “We need to put in defensive trading because there are a lot of things happening: the Brexit, elections in Europe.”
$1 = 49.4650 Philippine pesos Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Jacqueline Wong