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PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 January, 2012, 12:00am

The expert panel addresses vexing questions of investor interest:

Carl Berrisford, analyst, UBS Wealth Management Research, is asked: Is the US finally recovering? If yes, what is the implication for Asian markets?

The latest economic data out of the US shows a gradual decline in unemployment and better industrial production than expected. This seems to confirm a modest but stable growth recovery of the US economy against a backdrop of a deteriorating Europe.

This renewed optimism has prompted some US economists to bump up US GDP growth forecasts to more than 2 per cent for 2012.

Others claim that the US has decoupled from Europe. Although the domestic consumer famously drives the US economy, making up more than 70 per cent of GDP, exports still contribute about 11 per cent. And while Europe comprises about one-fifth of total US exports, demand growth for US products and services from other regions of the world (like Asia) may fall as these regions suffer more directly from the European debacle.

It seems unlikely that the US economy could emerge completely unscathed from a contracting Europe. That said, confidence can be a powerful force in a consumer-driven economy and collective belief in the economy may rally the US consumer.

So what would this mean for Asia?

With about 13 per cent of total Asian exports destined for the US and 16 per cent destined for Europe, a recovery in the US could go some way to cushioning the blow of a European slowdown.

But perhaps more critical for Asian markets is the boon they would receive from rising US investor risk appetite. This would lift capital inflows into risk assets such as Asian equities.

While we don't yet know the strength of the US recovery, and the impact on Asian economies, equity markets may move well ahead of the facts.

David Poh, regional head of asset allocation and discretionary portfolio management, Societe Generale Private Banking, is asked: Should investors buy gold in 2012?

Gold continued to shine last year, rising 10 per cent, following a huge 29.5 per cent rise in 2010 and 24.4 per cent in 2009.

This is due to the fear of rising inflation because the US government primed the economy with two sets of quantitative easing in 2009.

It is also because of fears of the euro-zone debt crisis.

Recent macroeconomic data from the US, the euro-zone and China shows signs of stabilisation in global growth, and corporate earnings have been better than expected. But global growth is still fragile and the path to full recovery remains uncertain.

I believe gold as an asset class will continue to shine this year as a hedge against the (admittedly low) chance that central banks will push for further accommodative easing.

But given the spectacular rise over the past years, we are advising our clients to remain prudent and to accumulate at lower levels.

We have also advised our clients to remain invested in investment grade and selective high-yield fixed income with a shorter duration, also to combat inflation.

High-dividend equities provide another avenue for investors who wish to cushion any potential downside with a stable cash return.



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