WHAT a day to discuss the stock market's prospects! When we met for the second of our occasional Working Lunches at 12.30 pm on Monday, the Hang Seng Index was already down 986 points - or 11.1 per cent - for the day, Peregrine was inches from liquidation, and world equity markets looked poised to continue their slide. This was in sharp contrast to our debut Working Lunch, just after the handover. On July 16 last year, the benchmark was at 15,446, on its way to a record high of 16,673 on August 7. Despite the unsettling events of recent months, participants came to lunch calm and clear-headed. Returning panellist Alex Tang Yee-yuk, research director at Core Pacific-Yamaichi International (Hong Kong), spoke about the gutting the red chips had received and gave his opinion about their future. BNP PrimeEast Securities' managing director for Hong Kong research and marketing, Frederick Tsang Sui-cheong, looked at the big picture for the Chinese economy, arguing that the mainland's export competitiveness remained intact despite Southeast Asian currency devaluations. Jake van der Kamp, group strategist at ABN Amro Hoare Govett Asia - and our bull for the session - said the Hong Kong dollar's link to the greenback would hold, eventually forcing interest rates down and aiding the stock and property markets. Clive Weedon, a director of Paribas Asia Equity, said the first six months of the year would be grim but the latter half would be sexy. All four participants said the peg would remain and the clouds would eventually lift. All agreed the only place for investors to find cover during the next few months would be in the utilities shares, particularly China Light & Power and Hongkong Telecom. The utilities index rose the next day by 11.2 per cent.