Limited upside seen for Hong Kong stocks in second half

Technology, financial and export counters among the top picks by analysts as China story falls out of favour among investors

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 July, 2014, 4:05am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 July, 2014, 10:16am

Concerns about the mainland economy and tinkering by the central bank contributed to a lacklustre first half for local markets, and analysts say the outlook for the remainder of the year looks little better, with their sombre assessment grating against renewed optimism in the United States and Europe where equities hit record highs.

"It's almost as if people have lost interest in the China story," said Howel Thomas, a portfolio manager at Wykeham Capital Asia Value Fund.

Energy, materials, consumer goods, casinos and the finance sector were the worst performers, while the technology and property sectors finished the half in the black.

Conglomerates rose more than 6 per cent, thanks to their international diversification, said Alexis Garatti, an economist at Haitong International Securities.

The Hang Seng Index was down 0.5 per cent for the first half while the H-share index dropped 4.4 per cent. By contrast, the S&P 500 Index in the US added 6.2 per cent and the S&P Europe 50 Index rose 5.1 per cent.

The market might have fallen further but for global interest rates, which had stayed low and "provided a fillip to the property sector as well as other high-yielding stocks within the utilities and telecommunications", said Mark Konyn, the chief executive of Cathay Conning Asset Management.

Michael Every, a Rabobank senior economist, said market performance was as much a reflection of economic concerns as it was "a product of central bank manipulation, both overt and covert, of financial markets".

While the People's Bank of China was trying to dampen excess liquidity, the US Federal Reserve was still pumping money into the economy, albeit at a reduced rate due to tapering, and equity prices in part reflected the relative zeal shown by the central banks, Every said.

Analysts expect the mainland economy to stabilise later in the year but see little upside to Hong Kong equity prices despite the planned "through train" scheme that will make it easier for mainlanders to trade Hong Kong stocks and vice versa.

It was difficult to "find a China bull" at the moment, Thomas said, adding fund managers were returning from fundraising trips despondent after finding little investor interest in Asian stocks.

Garatti favours the local technology sector, which he said was riding a global technology boom, while Konyn prefers financials and export-focused companies. There was little belief that Occupy Central would be anything more than noise.

"Western Europe and America have had generations of people demonstrating without noticeably damaging our economies," Every said. "Central bank liquidity is a far more important issue."