Markets could rise further this year: DBS

Mr Hou Wey Fook, DBS Bank's chief investment officer, yesterday said the market will eventually enter bearish territory when it hits euphoria levels, but that has not happened yet.
Mr Hou Wey Fook, DBS Bank's chief investment officer, yesterday said the market will eventually enter bearish territory when it hits euphoria levels, but that has not happened yet.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Top execs note strong global growth which will boost earnings

The bull run has already been going on for nine years but it is still not over yet, according to senior banker Hou Wey Fook yesterday.

Mr Hou told DBS Private Bank clients that market valuations in the United States are stretched but not excessive, while inflation is subdued and the global economic outlook strong, which will boost corporate earnings worldwide.

"When inflation is low, central banks have the luxury of not tightening or normalising monetary policy, so they tend to be very slow at raising interest rates," noted Mr Hou, the bank's chief investment officer.

"Because of that, valuations of stock markets can go higher."

The Federal Reserve in the US has raised rates five times since 2016 and hinted at three more this year but even these have been done at a very gradual pace, he added.

The market will eventually enter bearish territory when it hits euphoria levels, but that has not happened yet, said Mr Hou at the bank's investment outlook event for the first half of the year.

"In a stage of euphoria you can actually see the writing on the wall. I remember back in 1996, the writing on the wall was that when you took a taxi, the driver would talk to you about Malaysia and Singapore stocks - just before the Asian financial crisis," he said.

"In 1999, I remember taxi drivers became technology experts who could talk about dot-com stocks, just before the bubble burst."

No Uber driver has engaged him in conversation about the stock market yet, he noted, though one has chatted to him about bitcoin.

DBS chief executive Piyush Gupta agreed that the fundamentals underlying global economic growth are still strong, which will power financial markets throughout this year.

However, with stock markets in the midst of a nine-year bull run, investors will be skittish and it will not take much to trigger corrections, he added.

Triggers could be rising tensions in North Korea or a step up in trade rhetoric between the United States and China.

Even likelier are triggers in the form of political events caused by tensions from the disenfranchised and underprivileged in society.

"Fundamentally the inequity and comparisons between the haves and have-nots will continue creating a lot of angst, and I think you might find that to be a trigger for market jitters," Mr Gupta noted.

Cybersecurity incidents will also likely increase, he said, while adding that there are pockets of opportunities for investors this year.

Mr Gupta is particularly bullish on China, noting that while the valuations of tech stocks are high there, these firms are making a big difference in the economy and society, which justifies their valuations.

South-east Asia is another positive story, he said, given strong consumption trends and the openness of these economies, which will help them ride on strong global growth.

Financial services companies stand to gain from rising interest rates, he added, while in Singapore, property firms are likely to get a boost from the market recovery.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2018, with the headline 'Markets could rise further this year: DBS'. Print Edition | Subscribe