You are here

2017 yearender: Hou Wey Fook: Chief investment officer, DBS Bank

Stay in game but diversify across asset classes

Shares performed well this year - in Singapore and abroad - while the wave of collective sales took everyone by surprise. It could mean more of the same for 2018 given the level of optimism generated. But as five financial experts tell Invest editor Lorna Tan, risks lie ahead despite a stellar 2017 for investors.

Hou Wey Fook of DBS says it is essential that investors diversify across a number of asset classes, including bonds, stocks and cash, and adopt a long-term approach.

Q What were the best and worst things (financially) that happened to you this year?
A The best thing that happened: I stayed invested in the stock market, primarily through holdings in Singapore real estate investment trusts (Reits).

The total return from this sector - comprising commercial office, retail, and hospitality Reits - was around 20 per cent this year. I bought them at the start of the year on the basis that they would provide me with dividends of some 6 per cent annually, far higher than what I would have obtained from fixed deposits. But the icing on the cake was that these counters also generated capital gains.

The worst thing, from an investment perspective, was that I did not participate sufficiently in Asian technology counters, such as Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings, which doubled in value.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, so I should not be too hard on myself as my objective at the start of the year was really to achieve cash-flow returns.

Q How has 2017 been for the markets?
The year is almost over, but the much-anticipated "topping out" of the eight-year-old United States equity bull market did not materialise after all.

The excesses seen during the global financial crisis in 2008/ 2009 have undergone structural unwinding, while the synchronised global growth story has unfolded, buoyed by the recovery in corporate capital expenditure, exports, and domestic consumption.

This positive macro environment has put global corporate earnings on a healthy trajectory. All told, global stocks went up 20 per cent this year - this time led by Asia, which climbed 40 per cent.

Q How do you see 2018 panning out?
We believe the bull market that started nine years ago in the US remains intact. In fact, Asian markets have only started to catch on to this bullish trend.

Asian stock indexes were unchanged for the period between 2007 and 2016. We have been telling our clients to "stay in the game" or to stay invested, as the fundamental story of synchronous global growth and low inflation will trump concerns of high market valuations.

Q Going into 2018, please offer some tips to retail investors.
While there is some concern about the spectre of rising US Treasury yields on the back of the Federal Reserve's guidance to raise rates - since these have often been associated with weaker equity prices - historical data shows that this need not necessarily be the case.

Indeed, the S&P 500 Index has rallied in tandem with rising rates in the past (for instance, 2003-2006). We think this rate-hiking cycle will be no different. We expect the uptrend in risk assets to stay on track, as long as the Fed maintains a gradual approach to policy tightening.

We continue to like the dividend investment theme and the infrastructure theme in Asia, on the back of China's Belt and Road Initiative.

Globally, we like the sectors of financials, due to rising rates, and technology, given its enormous potential in the long run. With the growing dominance of robotics, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, traditional business models are on the cusp of major disruption - paving the way for a structural uptrend in technology stocks.

It is essential that investors diversify across a number of asset classes, including bonds, stocks and cash. They should adopt a long-term horizon in their investment approach, as it has clearly been proven that "timing the market" is extremely difficult when it comes to generating long-term and sustainable returns.

Get the lowdown from our other experts: