HK placed to continue outpacing Asia rivals

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 October, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 October, 1998, 12:00am

The Hong Kong stock market has been a disappointment to those who invested in it over the last year but at least they can derive comfort, cold though it may be, from one thing.

It has continued to outperform comparable Asian markets. You would still have done better putting your money into Hong Kong than spreading it over equities in the rest of Asia. This has long been the case and there is nothing to suggest that it has really changed.

The chart shows the performance of the Hang Seng Index relative to the stock markets of the rest of Asia outside of Japan. The market performances are taken in US dollar terms and weighted by size of market capitalisation at the end of last year.

The chart says that you would have done eight times better putting your money in Hong Kong since the beginning of this decade than spreading it around the other regional markets.

The scale of the outperformance is great and so consistent that it is worth looking at a little more closely. Admittedly it starts from a low base in 1990 just when confidence was returning six months after the June 4 violence in Tiananmen Square.

It cannot really be taken much further back, however, because there wasn't much in the way of other Asian markets with which to compare Hong Kong. The mainland's markets did not yet exist, the markets of South Korea and Taiwan were still closed and the markets of Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia were minuscule. Go back further than 1990 and you don't have much more than Singapore and Malaysia for comparison.

But take it from 1990 onwards and the only long stretch during which Hong Kong did worse than the rest of Asia was one year from the beginning of 1994 to the beginning of 1995. This represented the correction from a speculative binge at the end of 1993 when investors lost their heads. There is no kinder way of putting it.

Look at the record since the Asian financial crisis broke in summer last year and you still get overall outperformance for Hong Kong. There was one sharp correction in October last year and another one just before the Government intervention in August this year. But in both cases the market rallied again and quickly showed a better performance than the rest of Asia.

The period since summer last year is chiefly notable for volatility in relative performance. Smooth this out and the scale of the outperformance was even steeper than previously.

It's cold comfort, because people who had their money in Hong Kong when the Asian crisis broke still saw the value of their holdings more than halved over the next year. But cold comfort can turn to warm comfort.

Nothing has materially changed in the fundamental underpinnings of the Hong Kong economy, which led its stock market to do so much better this decade. the mainland is still there to power the growth, currency worries have faded, interest rates are heading down and, even the property market has good reason to rally. The outperformance has all the hallmarks of lasting. When other Asian markets recover the return of investor confidence can make Hong Kong soar.