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Spotting a profit in the Asian markets

MOST stock markets on a global basis appear to offer excellent opportunity for profit. As interest rates fall or the currencies devalue, stocks are in a good area for growth. My favourite is the French market, which should move upwards strongly. I also like the Asian stock markets. They appear set to move up with good profit.

Let us review the position of each market, as judged by its most popular index.

The Singapore Straits Times Index is consolidating recent gains and is an excellent bet as long as it can stay above 1,550, which would be an area of concern.

The Malaysia Consolidated Index has pushed up to a multi-year high and looks strong. It will be risky if it falls back to 650, and a prudent investor will exit at 550.

The Taiwan Weighted Price Index has had a good run above 3,000. It is excellent, as long as it can stay above 3,000.

The Bangkok SET Index recently fell back to 900. But it has a strong base building up and should push forward with vigour. It would take a close at 835 to cause doubt.

The Philippine Manila Index is likely to drift sideways until after April because of Easter. It is good as long as the market stays above 1,175, when you should exit.

New Zealand. The NZSE - 40 Cap. There is a buy signal when it reaches 1,610, then could go on up to 2,000.

Frances CAC is excellent above 1,900. It is in a strong position to move up vigorously. Use caution if it falls back to 1,870.

The German DAZ is losing momentum and is shaky. It is above 1,700; use caution below 1,600.

Switzerland's Swiss Bank Index has been unsteady. It would take a close below 945 to require caution.

The London FTSE 100 has trended upwards for seven months and reached 2,890. Now a series of rising lows have occurred. It is risky below 2,740.

The Hongkong market is exceedingly risk-loaded with out-of-control inflation, the crippling link to the diminishing US dollar, social and political problems and its close ties with US markets. There are plenty of other markets with much less risk. The worst are Hongkong unit trusts or mutual funds. If the market collapses it is difficult to get your money back, as we saw in 1987 when they would not open their doors or answer telephones. You can put a stop loss order on stocks but not unit trusts.

It is important with unit trusts not only to stay out of front-end load or any that have costs besides the normal 0.25 per cent management fee, but also to make sure operational costs are not excessive and that you are getting the benefit of ultra-low brokerage costs. Hidden charges can erode your investment.

Worst is yet to come THE prices for US stocks are far above reality. There is no case in history showing stocks recovering from outrageously overpriced levels.

Mr Kurt Richenbacher (Newsletter, Mendelssohn Strasse 51, D-6000 Frankfurt 1, Germany) says: ''In the US, there is a huge volatile pyre of over-inflated stock and bond prices, piled ever higher by a Central Bank that can only tighten at the peril of the financial system and the economy. I am disturbed that the US public concentrates on retail sales, and other trivia, that have nothing to do with the economic problem, which is structural.'' He says people's savings is dangerously low.

He likens the comments we are hearing as similar to former US president Herbert Hoover's statement in May, 1930 - ''I'm convinced we have passed the worst and will soon recover''. But the worst was ahead.

Mr Richenbacher says debt is crushing, yet expanding, especially government debt which crowds out the private sector. If the money supply isn't growing, jobs aren't expanding, building isn't going at normal pace, the US recovery under way will soon wither and recession return.

The US recovery was propelled by two forces, neither sustainable - the spending drive by consumers with diminishing savings and the huge fiscal stimulus reflected in the mountainous budget deficit.

The frenzy to cut interest rates ignores the cost to savers. Low interest lightens debt service but loss of personal interest income is over 500 per cent as high as personal interest payments.

People are buying stocks, mainly through mutual funds, because they are led to believe corporate profits are rising. In terms of GNP they are falling, not rising. Plant closings and down-sizing continues through the so-called productivity led expansion. Profit margins are below 1988-89 levels.

Money has been going out of US banks into stocks and bonds. If either markets fail the public is bankrupt. The stock market is a bubble phenomena. The chart of coincident index over three years shows no recovery at all. Mr Richenbacher says the US dollarhas lost momentum and the failure of the recovery will signal the next dollar sell off.

The bottom line is that there is no recovery and the stock market will soon be falling.

The shrinking dollar THE US dollar has not maintained its recent drive towards a new low. But it has no room at this time for a rally and will move sideways for a while then start dropping again. It is losing momentum against the Swiss franc and German mark; it needs to breakstrongly against 1992 peaks to confirm potential for higher scope.

The US dollar's overall patterns continue to show a gradual loss of momentum characterised by a weakening follow through after each peak. Any clear breaks of the early March consolidation lows at 1.61 deutschemarks and 1.505 Swiss francs would provide further evidence of trend deterioration.

Thereafter moves below the February reaction lows at SF1.4850 and 1.61 marks would confirm decisive breaks in the US dollar's upward trend seen since October with further weakness to follow.

The British pound is consolidating its recent rallies against the US dollar and stronger European currencies. Some further recovery may follow but the overhead resistance is likely to make any gains difficult to hold.

The pound is likely to strengthen more against the yen before resuming its decline. Its stronger stance is against the weak European currencies, including the Irish punt, Italian lira and Swedish krona.

The German mark has moved above 71.20 yen, confirming a steadier phase before the overall downward trend is resumed.

Against the greenback the mark has rallied from its 1992 low of $0.598 to confirm the strength of its current support. The mark is generally stable against other European currencies and is still capable of strengthening further against the French franc.

The mark's reaction against the weak European currencies indicates this group has seen most of its devaluation, but there is no confirmation that the final peaks have occurred.

The yen has broken previous reaction lows against the European currencies, indicating a strong consolidation of the February-March gains is under way.

In contrast, the yen is probably nearing the end of its consolidation with the US dollar and underlying support should lead to higher levels soon.

The Swiss franc has dropped back towards its recent lows against the French franc and mark but downward risk should be limited to the 1992 lows and the Swiss franc should move upward soon. There is no apparent risk against the US dollar. The Swiss franc is also losing its downward trend against yen.

The New Zealand and Australian dollars are encountering resistance against the US dollar and yen. The Australian and Canadian dollars are weakening against the yen but remain firm against the marks.

Leon Richardson is a well-known commentator and investor