At the close of calendar year 2015, the STI ended at 2882.73. And today, the last day of trading for year 2016, the STI ended at 2880.76. In effect, the STI lost less than 2 points or less than 0.07% for the year 2016.
However, if we were to slice the STI movement month-by-month within the year, it tells a different story. In the first two months, namely January and February, the STI actually fell below 2,600, down more than 10% from the beginning of the year following the uncertainties in China due to the sudden devaluation of the RMB. The free-fall that triggered the circuit breakers in the Shanghai stock exchange seemed to instil more fear than stabilising the market, causing even more selling when the market resumed. In the meantime, the oil price that reached a high of more than US$100 per barrel in 2014, had been falling throughout the year 2015 and was heading to below the $30 per barrel by January 2016. There was even a widespread fear that it could even go below $20 per barrel. Needless to say, the two simultaneous events that happened at the beginning of the year caused the Straits Times Index (STI) to dip ferociously from 2882.73 to below 2,600 losing more than 10% in less a month during January.
By early March, the oil price had somewhat stabilised at around $30 per barrel and made a u-turn gradually towards the $40 per barrel level. The STI that has been tracking the oil price also climbed gradually passing the 2,800 mark. However, the oil price that had been gradually falling since second half of year 2014, had already brought irreversible damage to the offshore and marine (O&M) sector. The share price of many stocks in this sector was relegated to super penny stocks when it was between 70 cents to a dollar just one to two years ago. Defaults become a commonplace for many bonds that were raised during the good times 3-4 years ago. The default of Swiber bond in the middle of 2016 triggered many O&M bond-issuers to seek bond-holders approval to re-structure the coupon payments. To date, these issues have not been fully resolved and they are likely to snowball into 2017. In the meantime, the bond defaults also spread to other sectors such as properties as well as other asset class such as perpetual bonds. Several short-term bonds and perpetual bonds that like Oxley Holdings, Aspial Corporation and Hyflux that were issued in the first half of this year had the share price fell below their respective issue price. Much to the expectations of stock investors, the surprised Britain-Exit (Brexit) in June 2016 turned out to be a non-event, at most affected a few isolated stocks on the SGX.
Then, of course, the spectre of interest rate hike began to be in the forefront of investors’ mind again by the last quarter of 2016. The widely expected first interest rate hike became a reality in December after the American presidential election in early November. Shocking the political scene was the selection of Donald Trump, who was considered a rookie compared with Hillary Clinton. The interest rate hike in December as well as the expectations of more hikes into 2017 shifted the whole investing landscape. Bank shares were widely favoured while REITs and property shares lost their shine.
With the US presidential election behind us, it is likely that the FED has more leeway in calling the shot. Consequently, the fear of more interest rate hikes will continue to haunt investors going into the year 2017. REITs and property developer counters are likely to continue under pressure, although there could be a possibility that the government eases the property curbs especially when the economy is not functioning as expected. Although interest rate hikes are a great boost for banks’ interest margin, it is only good at the beginning of the interest rate cycle. Economic performance and non-performance loans are likely to put a lid on the banks’ profit margin going forward. In effect, the upside on the share price of banks may be limited unless the economy, on the whole, turn for the better going into 2017. Yields, be they bond yield, perpetual bond yield or REIT yield will continue to edge higher in anticipation of more interest rate hikes. This means the bond/REIT price is likely to stagnate or even experience downward bias if FED starts to be more aggressive in hiking up the interest rate. Although many REITs managed to re-finance and to resolve their loan issues for year 2017, they may start to feel pressure again into the years for 2018 and beyond.
Whilst the oil price has passed the $50 mark per barrel recently, it is unlikely to go very far beyond the $60 per barrel mark as shale oil is likely to supply aggressively into the oil market, thus putting a ceiling on the oil price. This means that oil rigs and peripheral industries such as OSV suppliers will still not benefit in the short term. Apart from the need for oil price to reach at least $70 per barrel level, it needs to remain sustainable at that kind of price level for at least 9 months before the oil giants can convincingly decide on investing in offshore exploration. This means that the profit visibility is still dicey for the oil and gas counters in general listed on the local stock exchange for the year 2017. For the other commodities, it appears that the worst is over after retreating in the last few years. However, it appears that the stock prices have already run up recently. Thus, I do not expect much upside unless there are some game-changing developments, which could tilt the balance in either way.
With that, let’s look forward to another interesting investing year!
Disclaimer – The above write-up is purely the opinion of the author, and it does not constitute an advice to buy or sell the mentioned stocks or the sector. Readers, who buy or sell stocks based on this article, are fully responsible for their own action.
Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 26 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy.