Hang Seng Index

Stock turnover thins in edgy market

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 September, 2009, 12:00am


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The Hang Seng Index may have hit a one-year high on Friday, but investors seem to have lost their appetite for stocks as trading turnover levels have tumbled to a five-month low amid surging valuations and hiccups in the global economic recovery.

The average daily turnover for the first half of this month to Monday was HK$61.87 billion, the lowest since April's HK$61.77 billion mark. Trading levels on Monday barely topped HK$50 billion - the thinnest in more than two months.

Yesterday, the total was HK$30.99 billion, but there was only half a day of trading because of Typhoon Koppu.

Hong Kong's benchmark index, which hit a year high of 21,161.42 points last week, is up 5.79 per cent so far this month. The Hang Seng Index closed yesterday at 20,866.37 points. However, valuations have more than doubled to 22.1 times earnings from just 10.9 times earlier this year, according to Bloomberg.

'Not too many people are willing to get in at this level,' said Steven Leung, a director of institutional sales at UOB Kay Hian. 'People will mostly just stay on the sidelines and wait for [new] policies from China after October 1.'

The market is hoping that Beijing will unveil new stimulus measures next month while commemorating the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic.

The economic recovery across the border has slowed as bank lending has been reined in and exports shrank last month for a 10th month.

Setbacks in other major overseas economies have also added to concerns about a prolonged global downturn, weighing on near-term market sentiment. The United States announced earlier this month that unemployment levels rose to a 26-year high while industrial production in Germany reversed course and slipped in July from the previous month.

'For most institutions based in Asia, they already have exposure in equity markets, so there is no rush for them [to add more],' Leung said.

The recent slide in turnover may also stem from seasonal factors. September is a popular month for holidays, so some investors may have been travelling. Also, given the rally earlier this year, other investors may have already closed their books and started planning for next year.

But the average daily turnover so far this month even lags behind the HK$67.51 billion level set in September last year when the market was stunned by the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings.

Concerns of another sudden shake-up may still be haunting the market. Nearly two-thirds of global fund managers said the financial crisis was not over yet, according to a recent survey by FTI Consulting.

The market rally would find firmer ground if stocks held their current level and turnover started to increase, but it was unlikely to happen in the near term and that could trigger selling pressure, said Martin Marnick, the head of trading at Helmsman Global Trading.

'The market looks very overbought and is looking [to go] back down,' Marnick said. 'You need volume behind it [because] it cannot just run on thin air.'