Amid financial turmoil and with the economic outlook gloomy, a good omen would be welcome. That was not what Hong Kong got when a fortune stick for the Year of the Ox was drawn in yesterday's traditional ceremony. It did not bode well for the city, given the interpretation that both internal conflict and threats from outside the city lie ahead. That is a prediction we could do without. Soothsayers have already said they do not expect an improvement in the economy, or a reversal of fortune for investors, until at least the end of the year. We do not need fortune sticks to tell us that the Year of the Ox will be a challenging one. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen predicted as much in his Lunar New Year message, while also saying that no challenge would be too big for Hong Kong as long as we pulled together as a community. If we are to overcome difficulty, the qualities of the ox - among them patience, loyalty, strength and intelligence - will be much needed. They offer us some comfort on the hard road ahead. Less than 12 months ago the fortune stick drawn for the Year of the Rat boded well for a prosperous Hong Kong, despite the looming threat of recession in the United States. Ultimately soothsayers' warnings of market turbulence and natural disasters were proved right. Since then, governments have poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the global financial system to unblock credit. Bank nationalisation is no longer an idea that dare not speak its name in the corridors of capitalism. The financial crisis has exploded the notion that Asia's China-led emergence as an engine of growth would shield its economies. Beijing has unleashed massive fiscal and monetary stimulus measures to maintain growth. The Hong Kong government has guaranteed bank deposits and boosted guarantees for loans to small and medium-sized enterprises. There is no doubt that tackling the economic crisis will be the priority this year. The crisis has struck the mainland ahead of a number of politically sensitive anniversaries. This year it will be 50 years since the Tibetan uprising, a year since the Sichuan earthquake, 20 years since the Tiananmen crackdown and 60 years since the founding of the People's Republic. Skilful economic management will be a prerequisite for maintaining social harmony. The political fallout of economic stress has already been felt in Hong Kong, with the government putting off public consultation on electoral reforms for 2012 until later this year to allow the administration to focus on the crisis. But the reform process must go on, and it has promised that the consultation will begin this year, however bad economic conditions may be. Meanwhile, the world will be watching to see whether the new US president, Barack Obama, can honour his pledge to remake America. He has already unveiled an array of policy initiatives that set his domestic agenda. His focus on domestic priorities at this time is understandable, but history will judge him, too, on how he manages the Beijing-Washington relationship, which matured under his predecessor in the White House. Mr Obama was born in the Year of the Ox. Those qualities of strength, patience and intelligence will be needed as he tackles the many challenges ahead. This city does not have much say in the big affairs of the world, but there is reason to be optimistic. Hong Kong people have shown they have few peers when it comes to pulling together, making sacrifices and emerging stronger from tough economic times. It is time to show we can do it again.