Feb 16, 2015

    CNY break may put paid to rally hopes

    THE Spring Festival is nearly upon us, but the much-hoped-for Chinese New Year stock market rally has yet to blossom.

    For the 10 trading sessions so far this month, the Straits Times Index (STI) ended in positive territory only six times.

    It saw back-to-back days of gains just once - last Tuesday and Wednesday.

    Gains made over the two-day run came to 26.2 points - hardly a figure to shout about.

    To be fair, while the local stock market has not performed spectacularly, it has been chugging along at a steady pace, adding 35 points or 1 per cent this month.

    This week, trading hours will be shorter, with only half-day trading on the eve of Chinese New Year. Also, some traders and investors are away. These factors could put paid to hopes for a rally this week.

    A lack of leads due to the closure of key markets could also affect trading activity.

    China starts its five-day Chinese New Year break from Wednesday, while markets in the United States are closed for Presidents' Day today.

    Concerns over whether US consumer spending can stay strong might be reason enough for some investors to stay on the sidelines for now.

    In a survey of consumer sentiment by the University of Michigan, the index dropped to 93.6 points this month, down from 98.1 last month, according to results released on Friday.

    Most economists had expected the index to remain unchanged.

    Even though the figure was the second-highest posted since January 2007, the households surveyed indicated that they were less upbeat about conditions in the next six months, and there was a sharp drop in their plans to buy durable goods.

    The report curbed gains for US stock markets on Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.3 per cent while the S&P 500 was up 0.4 per cent, ending at a new record high of 2,097 points.

    Buying sentiment could be bolstered if there is a breakthrough in Greece or if Japan provides a catalyst.

    Newly installed Greek leaders who pledged to end anti-austerity measures said over the weekend that they are committed to reaching a deal at a meeting of European finance ministers today.

    Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said he was looking for a solution that would keep Greece in the euro monetary union.

    Initial demands by Greece have been watered down - the government says it is now willing to implement about 70 per cent of the bailout conditions, instead of rejecting them outright.

    Further loans could then be extended to Greece, which would otherwise run out of cash at the end of this month and default on its debts. That would trigger an exit from the euro zone.

    Attention will be on Japan this week - fourth-quarter economic growth figures are due today and the Bank of Japan will issue its monetary policy statement on Wednesday.

    Japan is expected to return to expansion in the October to December period, after two straight quarters of contraction.

    Market consensus is for a 0.9 per cent rise in gross domestic product, compared with the previous quarter. The central bank is not expected to further boost monetary stimulus measures for now.

    Property stocks will be in the spotlight on the local corporate front, with major developers City Developments reporting full-year results today and CapitaLand announcing its earnings tomorrow.

    Conglomerate Sembcorp Industries will also report earnings tomorrow.

    There could be disappointment over OCBC Bank's failure to seal a deal to sell its stake in United Engineers to Thai tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi.

    Investors will have to lock horns with this uncertain backdrop as the Year of the Goat kicks off.