Letter from Hong Kong: The feng shui guide to interesting times

By Ellen Sheng
Financial News, March 11, 2013

The Lunar New Year in Hong Kong usually means eating with family, a visit to the temple and assessing personal portfolios tested against feng shui principles.

A handful of financial firms also take a short break from the usual market analytics to deploy some feng shui, an ancient Chinese system of geomancy. Hong Kong people refer to feng shui in everyday life to figure out auspicious dates for important events such as getting married or having a baby (last year, the year of the dragon, spawned a mini baby boom).

Though the Hong Kong Stock Exchange officially discourages such superstition, feng shui is ingrained in the local psyche and superstition has a role – albeit a small one – in portfolios.

Listing companies often pay big bucks to choose memorable or “lucky” stock numbers and feng shui masters are regularly employed to check out real estate and make recommendations.

Feng shui masters make the headlines at the start of the Chinese New Year with their predictions. This is the year of the black water snake, making masters fairly optimistic about stock markets.

Feng shui master Raymond Lo told Reuters: “We will see a lot of positive energy coming and people will have more confidence in economic recovery.”

According to Lo and other feng shui masters, the dominant elements this year are water and fire. This is both good and bad. Water usually represents wealth in feng shui logic and the fire element should help fuel the Hang Seng index.

CLSA, the brokerage and research house that produces one of the better-known feng shui market outlooks, predicts the best sectors to be those associated with metal; these include autos, metals, resources, technology, currencies and banking.

Shipping, transport, hotels, gaming and tourism are also OK.

Aside from their share portfolios, Hong Kongers are also interested in what the feng shui masters have to say about their other market fixation – real estate.

Several masters predicted a dip in Hong Kong real estate prices later in the year. Days after Chinese New Year, the Hong Kong government doubled stamp duties for homes and non-residential properties valued at more than HK$2m ($257,869), which includes almost everything.

So far, property agents have noted a dramatic cooling of interest in luxury flats. However, some agents now predict that rents will rise faster in the second half of the year as homebuyers hang back from the market.

But the outlook isn’t all rosy. The two main elements, water and fire, are opposing forces, signalling conflict. Previous snake years have been fraught with uncertainty and violent change. The last one was 2001, the year of the Twin Towers attacks in New York. Before that was 1989, which saw the crackdown on democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Other infamous snake years include 1941 (Pearl Harbor), 1929 (the Great Depression) and 1917 (the Russian Revolution).
Feng shui masters have warned that the political outlook continues to be worrisome.

Tensions are rising between China and Japan over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.

The China Daily reported last month that tourism between the two countries had hit a low and seemed unlikely to recover anytime soon.

The numbers of Japanese travellers to China fell by 31% in November and 22.7% in December, while the numbers of Chinese visitors to Japan fell 43.6% in November and 34.25% in December.

In the latest development, a Chinese fishery patrol boat was said to have briefly entered Japanese territory near the disputed islands, according to the Japanese coast guard.

The snake, as a skin-shedder, is associated with change in Chinese culture, which means we should live in interesting times this year.

This article originally appeared in Financial News. Used here with permission.