Business

Will this week see a last-gasp push on the Straits Times Index?

One of the more interesting bits of news last week, reported earlier in this column, was that according to US economics research firm Cornerstone Macro, the probability of the US equity indices posting a positive return in the final five days of any year is 77 per cent versus 55 per cent for any other five-day period.

In other words, the odds of the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing above 20,000 for the first time in history in the few remaining days of 2016 are higher than usual.

Why this happens is not clear - whether it's because funds want to pad their performance by pushing up particular stocks before the end of significant periods, whether you want to call it "window dressing" or "portfolio rebalancing" or whether there are some tax-related reasons, it is a reality of the market that odd things often happen at the end of each month, quarter, half-year and year.

Local investors could no doubt identify with this, having witnessed last-minute surges in volume and prices on the final days of several months in 2016.

But to the best of our knowledge, there aren't any equivalent studies into index returns in the final week of every year versus other weeks.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that with volume and performance as weak as they have been for the past 12 months, there is clearly a chance that history will repeat itself this week, at least as far as the major blue chips are concerned.

If it does occur, the main targets would be the banks, Singtel, Keppel Corp and probably the Jardine group.

Traders who anticipate that there will be year-end window-dressing and hope to profit from it should bear in mind the "buy in anticipation" trading maxim, which occasionally manifests itself at the end of significant periods.

This is when the buying occurs in the run-up to the last day, after which the selling occurs.

Beyond that though, things are less clear.

NOT A GOOD YEAR

This year has been largely forgettable for the market.

It started off on the downside because of crashes in China's stock markets and in oil, then sinking ahead of the UK's Brexit vote in June, and ending with political tensions between China and the US being overshadowed by hopes that the incoming Trump administration's economics will be beneficial to the US economy.

Will 2017 be better for Asia and Singapore than a dismal 2016, which in turn was only a marginal improvement over a poor 2015?

Or will the market live up to current forecasts and underperform yet again?

At the end of 2015, virtually all analysts were predicting a weak 2016 for the Singapore market and, as it turned out, they were spot on - the domestic economy continued to struggle with low growth, low productivity and tight labour, the sizeable oil and gas sector came under considerable pressure because of weak oil and Swiber's collapse, and if not for banks holding the Straits Times Index up in the final two months of the year, the index by now could well be in double-digit loss territory.

If there isn't any year-end push in the four trading days that remain, this could still happen.

Because no one knows what the US' trade, economic and political stance will be towards China and Asia ex Japan, analysts have been cautious in their forecasts for 2017.

DBS's chief investment officer Lim Say Boon in his first quarter 2017 outlook said his best guess is that Donald Trump will carry through much of what he promised.

"Unlike Obama, the new President will control both houses of Congress. And if he doesn't deliver on a good portion of his mandate, the anger he has stoked in his supporters will likely rebound on him," said Mr Lim, adding that emerging markets equities will tread water until there is greater clarity on how the Trump administration proceeds with its protectionist agenda.

This article appears in The Business Times today. For full listings of SGX prices, go to http://btd.sg/BTmkts

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