Johannesburg - Most emerging-market stocks fell and price swings in the benchmark index sank to the lowest level since 1997 as declines in Southeast Asia offset advances in China and Russia.

OAO Sberbank led gains in Russian stocks while bonds rallied after Euroclear Bank SA said it will start direct settlement of ruble-denominated government debt tomorrow.

Gome Electrical Appliances Holding Ltd. rose the most in two weeks in Hong Kong after China approved a plan to tackle the wealth gap and increase minimum wages.

Sappi fell 4.6 percent in Johannesburg after profit slumped.

UEM Land Holdings dragged Malaysian shares to a two-month low.

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index was little changed at 1,067.73 at 4:56 p.m. in Hong Kong. About 315 stocks dropped and 308 gained. The gauge’s 100-day historical volatility slumped to 8.8, the lowest level since August 1997. The measure traded at a range of less than 0.3 percentage points.

“Most investors are very cautious and looking for opportunity to scale back some of their equity holdings,” Vattana Vongseenin, chief executive officer at Phillip Asset Management Co., which oversees $20 million of assets, said by phone in Bangkok.

Russia’s Micex Index added 0.7 percent, heading for the biggest gain in more than a week. The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index rose 0.3 percent, snapping a two-day, 3.3 percent slide. The Philippine Stock Exchange Index slid 0.6 percent and Thailand’s SET Index declined 0.2 percent. Vietnam’s VN Index jumped 2.3 percent. The won and baht dropped on concern the nations’ governments will intervene to protect exports.

Biggest Drop

A gauge of consumer-discretionary companies in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index fell 0.3 percent, the most among 10 industry groups. The developing-nations measure has added 1.2 percent this year, trailing a 5.3 percent increase by the MSCI World Index. The emerging-markets index trades at 10.4 times estimated 12-month profit, compared with the MSCI World’s 13.7 times, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Sberbank, Russia’s largest lender, added 1.5 percent in Moscow after reaching its depository conversion limit. The Bank of New York BNY Mellon issued a statement halting its depositary receipt program.

Euroclear Bank said it will start direct settlement of Russian ruble-denominated government debt tomorrow, opening the $100 billion so-called OFZ market to foreign investors.

The FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index lost 1.2 percent and a gauge of price swings climbed to an 11-month high on speculation the government will dissolve parliament soon for an election. UEM Land, a property developer, sank 7.4 percent.

“My peers have received text messages that said the parliament will be dissolved after Chinese New Year,” Bharat Joshi, who helps oversee the equivalent of $1.7 billion at Aberdeen Asset Management Sdn. in Kuala Lumpur, said by phone. “Sentiment is poor, investors are being cautious.”

Election Timing

Prime Minister Najib Razak, who must dissolve parliament by April 28, is having his weekly Cabinet meeting and couldn’t comment on the election timing, a government spokeswoman said today. Chinese New Year starts on February 10.

Gome, China’s second-largest electronics retailer, added 2.2 percent, the most since January 23. China’s State Council yesterday approved an income-distribution plan. The blueprint targets boosting minimum wages to at least 40 percent of average salaries, loosening controls on lending and deposit rates and increasing spending on education and affordable housing.

Soho China Ltd., the biggest developer in Beijing’s central business district, tumbled 8 percent after a Beijing Times report linked the company to money laundering. Soho denied the claim.

Sappi Drops

Cathay Financial Holding Co. Ltd. climbed to a 17-month high in Taipei after posting a profit in January.

Cathay Financial, Taiwan’s largest financial services company, jumped 4.4 percent. The company reported net income of NT$3.04 billion ($103 million) in January, compared with a loss in the same month a year earlier.

Sappi, the world’s biggest maker of glossy paper, fell the most since May 9 after it said fiscal first-quarter profit slumped 62 percent because of lower paper and pulp prices.

Vodacom Group Ltd., the largest provider of mobile-phone services to South Africans, sank 3 percent in Johannesburg after announcing its quarterly earnings. - Bloomberg