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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What the market is trying to tell investors?

Second catalyst: Cranes operate on residential buildings at a construction site in Beijing. China’s economic health is the second major concern that could spark off a crisis for Bursa and the world.

IN stock market language, when the charts point to a “dead cross” formation, it means that there is confirmation of a long-term bear market. This is as opposed to a “golden cross” that points to a bull market.

Based on weekly indicators emitting from Bursa Malaysia, a dead cross is coming to formation. The last time this pattern emerged was in the first quarter of 1997 and a year later, the “dead cross” chart was fully formed. By that time, the entire capital market was in flames.

The ringgit fell against the US dollar, banks were in trouble and the stock market hit a nadir of 261 points on Sept 4, 1998.

Technical indicators are no sure sign of market failure. It could change with sentiments. However, time and again it has been proven that the stock market runs six months ahead of what is to be expected in the real economy.

As for the nation’s economy, there is no denying that growth is slowing down. There are governance issues with regards to the handling of public funds.

However, the fact remains that for all the noise the foreign investors make, the Government did not have to pay a premium when it raised US$1.5bil debts a few weeks ago. This indicates that foreign investors have largely discounted local issues.

Nevertheless, the external headwinds are overwhelming and weigh heavy on the Malaysian economy.

It is already showing with the slew of corporate results streaming in. Companies are not doing well, as indicated by Tan Chong Motor Holdings Bhd chalking up its first loss in 18 years. Property developers that have made a pile from a great run in the last eight years are seeing miserable sales.

Malaysia is expected to see a growth of 4% this year, which is low for a small nation. Nonetheless, we are better off than some of our neighbours.

Everybody is cautious, but nobody is able to point a finger to the catalyst that could cause a severe correction to the stock market. Inevitably, it will stem from the economy – whether domestic or global.

There are several signs that have emerged which need some monitoring.

At the top of the list would be the price of oil that has a close correlation to the ringgit and the economy.

Ironically, when crude oil plunged below US$30 per barrel, the ringgit weakened significantly on the view that Malaysia was an exporter of energy and it impacted the country’s revenue.

However, in recent months, oil prices have recovered to about US$45 per barrel levels but the ringgit is continuing to see volatility. One reason is that the market is not convinced that crude oil will stabilise at current levels.

Conventional economic theory reasons that when oil prices fall, it should strengthen economic activity because the cost of doing business comes down. The International Monetary Fund estimates that for every US$20 drop in price per barrel of crude, the global economy should grow by 0.5%.

However, this is not happening because the major economic superpowers of the world are going through their own problems.

This points to China’s economic health, the second major concern that could spark off a crisis for Bursa and the world.

Nobody can authoritatively put a finger on the state of the debt levels of China, especially those held outside the financial sector. The latest figure being bandied about is that the non-financial sector debt is 279% of gross domestic product, according to data from the Bank of International Settlement.

However, the optimists contend that China’s strong growth supports borrowing. Also, the country is seeing high inflation, which in the longer term will cause debt to erode. In the process of growing the economy, China has adopted an approach to weakening the yuan to export its way out. Every time the yuan weakens, the ringgit falls.

The third indicator is the highly likely scenario of the US raising interest rates in the second half of the year from the current band of between 0.25% and 0.5%. It is a measure which, if materialises, will exert pressure on the ringgit.

The headline numbers show that the US economy is still in the stage of recovery. The unemployment rate in the world’s biggest economy has ticked up slightly to 5% from 4.9% previously based on April numbers, but wage rates are still steady, meaning people are still getting paid well.

People’s earnings are growing at an estimated 2.5% based on latest numbers, which means that inflation will kick in.

At the moment the possibility of the US Federal Reserve raising interest rates will not likely happen in the next month or so but there is a strong possibility may happen by the year-end as inflation starts to tick up. This would cause an outflow of funds from emerging economies such as Malaysia and the ringgit would come under pressure.

The fourth catalyst is also tied to the US. This time, it is the fear of Donald Trump becoming the next president. Trump prefers a strong dollar and has hinted of a haircut for those holding US dollar debt papers.

Although Trump has come out to state that he was misquoted on the US dollar debt paper issue, it has spooked investors holding US$14 trillion of US debt papers.

The markets will also watch with anxiety on how Trump deals with policies of other countries such as China, Japan and the European Union (EU) in weakening their currencies to boost the economy.

As the run-up to the presidential elections takes place in November this year, if it becomes increasingly apparent that Trump will triumph over Hillary Clinton, then emerging markets will be spooked.

And finally, the last possible catalyst to cause a global shock is the possibility of Britain leaving the EU or better known as Brexit. Increasingly, the chances of it happening are remote. Nevertheless, nobody can tell for sure until the referendum on June 23.

All the five economic events will have a bearing on the ringgit. Everything points to the US dollar appreciating in the future, leaving the ringgit in defensive mode.

This is already being reflected in the negative mood of the stock market. If there is less noise in the domestic economy on such matters relating to the handling of public funds to governance, it would help the case for the ringgit.

The market is generally correct in predicting the future. But sometimes, the unexpected can happen – such as China handling its debt problems better than expected or Trump not being a candidate for the Republicans.

Such unexpected incidences can quickly reverse the sentiments of the market and the ringgit.

By M. Shanmugam The alternative view The Star

Go to Market Watch

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