Hang Seng may dip on negative sentiment

THE market is trading on very uncertain ground this week and, with a host of negative factors affecting sentiment, there may be further to fall.

On a technical basis, the Hang Seng Index does not look well. Last week, it broke below the 9,600 mark to close the week at 9,521.24.

Admittedly much of the week's fall was on Friday, following some interesting trading on Thursday when September futures contracts expired.

But looking over the proverbial cliff, there is little support between here and the 9,200 level.

Bad news from the United States over the week could see the index fall to that level, although most brokers are betting on a trading range between 9,400 and 9,600.

The long-bond yield is now at 7.82 per cent and by the end of last week was showing signs of settling down.

But the Dow Jones Index could come under some selling pressure and that would obviously flow on to the Hong Kong market.

A key factor this week will be further US-Japan trade talks. Some issues have been resolved but there are still a lot of niggling problems. If the talks yield tangible results they could help reduce America's trade deficit with Japan and the market would react positively. Unfortunately, history is against the trade talks succeeding in any meaningful way and the disappointment may be reflected in the prices of American stocks.

If the Hong Kong market does fall this week it will be on low volumes. There is very little in the way of stories for brokers to tell their clients.

Last week, brokers could get their clients to rearrange their portfolios following the announcement of the new Hang Seng Index constituent stocks, but this week there is no pressing reason to trade and institutional investors are expected to remain quiet.

The one caveat, as always, is the Japanese. They can remain quiet for months and then suddenly strike like lightning, swooping down on every stock in the market for two weeks before slipping away again.

The whole run-up to the 10,200 level was on Japanese buying, and it is largely because they have stopped supporting the market that it has slipped back again.

If the index does reach the 9,200 level they could come back in.

Over the last three months, Japanese fund managers have raised a lot of cash earmarked for the Hong Kong market, and the feeling among analysts is that not all of it has been allocated yet.

Which means there is still a lot of cash waiting to be invested in the market at the right time. Japanese may not be the best market timers because they are more interested in the long term, but at lower levels they may come back into the market.

The focus of trading this week will be on property counters with two Hang Seng Index property stocks announcing results.

On Wednesday, Henderson Land announces its final results. According to the Estimates Directory , analysts expect Henderson to make a full year profit of $5.6 billion, up 40 per cent on the $4 billion made in 1993.

And, on Friday, Sun Hung Kai Properties announces its full year profit. Analysts are expecting a 30 per cent increase in profits to $8.6 billion for the year.

These two results will provide a crucial reality check of the property market. Ever since Cheung Kong surprised the market with a $4.47 billion profit in August property, counters have been on a roll. Cheung Kong's results made analysts rethink their strategy on property counters.

All the gloom and doom that surrounded the counters gave way to massive buying as everyone believed the slowdown was not affecting earnings.

Much of the index rally from the 8,800 level all the way up was on property counters and the belief that the worst was over. Those beliefs will be tested on Friday when Sun Hung Kai Properties announces its results. It is the third largest counter on the stock exchange by market capitalisation and the largest property counter.

And unlike Cheung Kong, which is involved in mainly upmarket projects, SHK has a broad range of developments and so is a more reliable indicator of the real state of the market.

Brokers expect there may be some selling ahead of the results but, if the company disappoints with earnings, there will be a serious rethink of the wisdom of holding property stocks and the stock market will come under pressure.