Sell all or sit tight? Experts divided on 2016 outlook

Experts are divided on how the investment markets and global economy will pan out this year, with one even advising investors to "sell everything".

While some are cautiously optimistic, others - such as Royal Bank of Scotland's European economics head - see every reason to panic.

Mr Andrew Roberts warned in a recent note that severe market risks have been playing out in recent weeks and investors should rush for the exit to avoid what could be a crisis similar to 2008.

"Since November last year, China stocks are down a healthy 10 per cent, with more to come.

"Brent is down US$12(S$17) per barrel, halfway to our US$26 target (this year) already," he noted.

The global economy is also facing the "terrible cocktail" of negative trade and credit growth, Mr Roberts added.

"The world is slowing, trade is slowing, credit is slowing, we are in a currency war, global disinflation is turning to global deflation as China finally realises what it needs to do (devalue soon, and sharp) and the United States then, against all this counter-vailing pressure, stokes the fire by hiking rates.

"The downside is crystallising. Watch out. Sell everything except high-quality bonds."

His warning comes as investors are still reeling from the stock market crash over the past two weeks, when nerves were rattled by currency and growth concerns in China as well as plunging oil prices.

The move by the People's Bank of China to guide yuan's exchange rate lower early this month was read by many as a desperate bid to boost the country's stagnant exports through devaluation.

Chinese blue chips listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen have fallen around 15 per cent since the start of the year while the Straits Times Index here has shed 6 per cent.

Oil prices are down about 15 per cent as well.

But not all market watchers share Mr Roberts' bearish view.

"Looking at the MSCI Asia index, the recent volatility is not nearly as bad as 2008; it's not even a replay of the August crisis last year," ABN Amro private banking chief investment officer Didier Duret told The Straits Times.

"It's more of an echo on the same growth and currency concerns. I think the Chinese markets have seen the bottom last week and we will have convalescence from here on."

The global fundamentals are also not nearly as bad as feared, Mr Duret stressed.

"We are probably seeing the last days of the industry and manufacturing recession, both in China and globally. This is evident from the improving purchasing managers' index in Korea and Taiwan, both highly sensitive to world trade."

He added that oil prices may be able to recover to an average of US$55 a barrel this year on the back of short-covering in the futures market and the likelihood that producers will cut supply.

Bank of Singapore senior currency strategist Sim Moh Siong agreed that there is no need to flee the market. "In China, things are stabilising even though the economy remains in low gear.

The growth outlook hasn't really changed despite the recent market weakness - China will not have a hard landing," Mr Sim said.

The recent volatility was caused more by confusion over China's policy moves, and sentiment will calm down once the Chinese regulators improve their policy communication, he added, citing China's move this week to stabilise the currency.


This article was first published on January 14, 2016.
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