THE darkest hour is before the dawn. But is the Hong Kong equity market about to see first light? This vexing question is occupying the minds of investors throughout the territory, possibly the globe. Does a short, sharp sell-off lead to a quick rebound as we have seen in the past? Or is it the latest stage in a market in the grip of bears? The Hang Seng Index celebrated its 25th anniversary with a seven per cent plunge in value over two days. Wall Street showed a glimmer of revival on Friday but that, say the experts, is technical. There is no doubt that at current earnings levels Hong Kong represents an attractive buy. Many blue-chip stocks, especially in the property sector, are on or around their cheapest levels of the year and any turnaround in sentiment will surely see a sharp rebound in their share values. But being held hostage to the fortunes of the US Federal Reserve and jittery fund managers in Wall Street will ensure that wherever the Dow Jones goes, the Hang Seng is sure to follow. At the moment that outlook is clouded by the same fog that has obscured the markets since February 4 - the question of whether there will be another interest rate rise. That is a question that can only be answered by the Federal Reserve.