If there's blood on the streets, it's time to buy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 August, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 August, 1996, 12:00am

It is a good time to invest when a crisis strikes. This is an old idea. The old adage goes a good time to invest is when there is blood on the streets.

Yet investors are rarely brave enough to jump in during periods of social strife.

From the point of view of our theoretical investor (call him Risky Ron), Indonesian stocks make an interesting prospect at the present.

Political strife there has seen the Jakarta Composite Index drop about 8 per cent from 580 on July 19 to 533.58 on Tuesday. A modest recovery set in during the week. On Friday it closed at 560, 3.4 per cent off the July 19 close and less than one point off where it opened trading on Monday.

Although circumstances appeared to stabilise a little by Friday, problems of government in Indonesia look to be far from over. There could be some money to be made.

Risky Ron's investments in the region in recent years would have been pretty lucrative.

The regular explosions of revolt, suppression or financial collapse have been mere commas punctuating a period of rapid economic growth. Hong Kong has seen its fair share of turbulence. Three turbulent periods stand out.

In 1982 to 1984 the Hong Kong currency collapsed and needed pegging. Five banks collapsed and there was even a coupon run on a cake shop. The Hang Seng Index slumped to 676 on December 2, 1982, from 1,417 on January 29 of that year. By June, however, it was back up to 950 again, up 40 per cent from the low.

The Wall Street Crash of 1987 left its fair share of casualties in Hong Kong. The index slumped almost 50 per cent in the crash from 3,828 on October 15. It hit a low of 1,894 on December 7. By October, 1988, the index was back up to 2,593, up 37 per cent from the low.

The pro-democracy suppression in Tiananmen Square in June 1989 saw the index fall from 3,309 in May to 2,093 on June 5. By May 1990 the index was back up to 2,945, up 40 per cent from the low.

Looking around the region, the Philippines saw the overthrow of President Marcos in 1986, followed by a period of turbulence leading up to the last big coup attempt in late 1989. In 1986 the Philippines Composite just about doubled in value from 200 to 400. After the coup attempt in 1989 the index slumped from 1,080 to below 1,000 in the days following. It kept going south until it reached a low of 514 in October, 1990. By March, 1991, it had just about doubled again pushing through 1,000 again.

The Bangkok riots of 1992 saw the Thai SET slump to 667 by the middle of May. As a political settlement was found and a temporary regime took over the SET rebound to above 750. By the beginning of 1993 it was at 998, almost 50 per cent ahead of the low in the previous year.

More recently tension across the Taiwan Strait in March saw the Taiwan Weighted Index hobble around 4,690 before leaping into action to push through 6,000 by April. On Friday it closed at 6,160, up 31 per cent from the low.

Rules governing Risky Ron's investments are simple to follow. In the first place the investor should not bet his whole wad in one go. Such investments should be less than 10 per cent of a portfolio. The underlying market needs to have fallen significantly, by more than 25 per cent and preferably more than 35 per cent. The investor needs to be patient. Jumping in too early, before the main shake-out, can be very critical. Some investors might have to follow the market down some way before a turn is found.