Hong Kong investors set to see reality curbing the 'Trump effect'

Updated: 2017-04-10 07:16

By Peter Liang(HK Edition)

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For a man who is known to crave the limelight, US President Donald Trump must be mightily pleased to be hogging the attention of global capital markets from Wall Street to Exchange Square.

Hong Kong, of course, is one of the international markets outside the US that feels the full force of the so-called "Trump effect" that has been manifested in rising expectations of interest rate increases, inflation and the appreciation of the US dollar.

All these factors that are deemed good for stocks are expected to show up in Hong Kong, thanks to the linked exchange rate system. Indeed, the strengthening of the Hong Kong dollar in tandem with the greenback against most other major currencies has already sucked in large amounts, estimated at an aggregate $130 billion, of regional capital which in turn has pushed up asset values.

While the market is still on the boil and investor euphoria shows no sign of subsiding, Trump's temporary setback in trying to push through his health bill on Capitol Hill last week was enough to send a chill down the spine of some astute analysts. Voting on the bill was delayed because the government failed in the first try to round up support needed for its passage.

That incident, which may have been just a minor hiccup, has nevertheless raised doubts in the minds of many stock analysts about Trump's economic stimulus initiatives. Making Congress approve his proposed tax cuts is seen to be a much more intricate process than the health legislation. He is expected to face even greater challenges in getting enough legislators to agree to his proposal to vastly increase infrastructure spending, which could greatly push up the budget deficit.

Hong Kong investors set to see reality curbing the 'Trump effect'

There are growing signs that US investors are beginning to shift their focus from Trump economics to the other market fundamentals, particularly corporate earnings. A string of strong earnings reports from tech companies and some corporations in other sectors, notably Starbucks and FedEx - rather than promises of economic boosters from Trump - are now providing the major impetus of the market rally.

Some analysts have labeled such a development as the beginning of the true bull market. In contrast, the rally in the past few months was based largely on investors' "irrational exuberance".

Hong Kong investors who have been closely following developments on Wall Street in the past several months should also wean themselves from the "Trump obsession" to concentrate on domestic fundamentals in the city which are not necessarily the same as those in the US.

Interest rates will go up to stay in line with those in the US in the longer term. But the market consensus is that future rate increases will lag slightly behind inflation. This would mean that real interest rates can be expected to stay more or less at current levels. That's because people have become less confident that Trump will get all that he wanted in his economic stimulus plan.

The other factor of key importance to Hong Kong capital markets is the liquidity supply. So far, the continuous inflow of regional capital has kept the liquidity pool expanding briskly.

A large portion of that capital is invested in properties, resulting in rapid rises in home prices. Its effect on the stock market was made obvious by the strong earnings reports of the major property developers who have taken the opportunity of the surge in demand to unload their inventories at high profits.

The results of companies in other sectors are mixed. Retailing was hit hard by the decline in tourist purchases by visitors from the Chinese mainland and weak local consumption expenditure. Exports, which comprised mainly shipments to and from the mainland, have yet to recover from the downturn in the past several years.

In recent weeks, financial stocks, especially the Hong Kong-listed H shares of mainland banks, have done particularly well. That's an indication of a renewed confidence in the improved health of the banking system on the mainland.

Hong Kong bank stocks are also in demand although their prospects have been dimmed a little by the more modest expectations of rate increases, which can boost lenders' profit margins.

To be sure, Trump will continue to be an influence in the market. But the Trump mania may have passed its peak.

The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.

(HK Edition 04/10/2017 page8)