Keep your eyes glued to capital flow rather than interest rates
It seems Hong Kong is the only major stock market in the world that still cares about when the US Federal Reserve (Fed) will next raise interest rates.
We would have thought the market had already adjusted itself to the likelihood that, after so many false starts in the past, the Fed will make the move before the end of the year, most probably in December. But, apparently, that’s not the case.
Last Tuesday’s plunge in the benchmark indicator when trading resumed after a long weekend was widely attributed to talk of an imminent rate hike, fanned by a robust increase in new jobs. Unsurprisingly, the interest-rate sensitive property stocks took a heavy beating, dragging down the index in the following days.
On theory, a rise in the cost of funds would discourage investors and potential homes buyers from borrowing money from banks to buy properties. But, in reality, this is not always the case.
In Hong Kong, the primary concern of investors, or the average homes buyer, is the price trend. Potential buyers are convinced that the market upswing, which began in May, is continuing to gather momentum.
As a result, more and more people want to buy whatever properties they can afford before prices go up further. The buying spree, which is pushing up prices, is further fueled by banks cutting their profit margins on mortgage financing to grab market share when loan demand from other economic sectors has remained depressed.
It’s widely expected that the Fed will take a cautious approach in raising interest rates to avoid short-circuiting the economic recovery. Economists estimate that a 25-basispoint surge in US interest rates would not necessitate a corresponding hike in Hong Kong to defend the linked exchange rate system.
The projected increase in the inflow of capital from regional economies to hedge against the depreciation of their respective currencies against the US dollar after an interest-rate hike would be sufficient to keep the Hong Kong dollar at the pegged exchange rate.
So, instead of worrying about when the Fed will lift rates, Hong Kong investors should keep their eyes glued to the flow of capital which is having a direct impact on asset prices.
The upward momentum of Hong Kong property prices is unlikely to be curbed due to home buyers’ urgent demand and muchheated borrowing market greased by banks cutting financing costs even though the US Federal Reserve may increase its interest rate by year-end.