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Tuesday, January 27, 1998 Published at 12:01 GMT

Special Report

Will Asia's tiger economies roar in 1998?
image: [ Although powerful, the Tiger cannot guarantee relief for the Asia's injured economies ]
Although powerful, the Tiger cannot guarantee relief for the Asia's injured economies

After a tumultuous year of financial chaos and deadly bird 'flu', many people in Asia will be greatly relieved when the Tiger usurps the Ox on January 28.

Chinese people will ring in the Year of the Tiger hoping for prosperity and luck, courage and strength.

But Asia's soothsayers say the tiger cycle, though powerful, is no guarantee of relief as the feline symbol is as unpredictable as it is wily, capable of great evil as well as high achievement.

The experts of Feng Shui - the ancient Chinese practice which seeks to maintain harmony between the elements - are already urging caution.

[ image: Feng Shui: Investors must be cautious]
Feng Shui: Investors must be cautious
They say investors must avoid the "teeth" in the coming year if they are to survive further turbulence on the financial markets.

The outgoing Year of the Ox has not been a good one for Asia as financial turmoil snapped the fangs of economies such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea, whose decades of ferocious growth had earned them the nickname "Asia's tigers".

As Asia's stock markets collapsed by 30% to 50%, many currencies fell through the floor.

Even once-robust Hong Kong is reeling, with jobs lost and companies collapsing. This ha shaken the territory's confidence in its financial well-being.

This month, Hong Kong's biggest finance house, Peregrine Investment Holdings, folded, putting about 300 people in Hong Kong out of work. Cathay Pacific, the territory's flagship airline, dropped 460 Hong Kong workers.

Hong Kong market analysts are anything but sanguine on financial prospects in the Year of the Tiger.

[ image: Hong Kong is still reeling]
Hong Kong is still reeling
Experts are forecasting long months, if not years, of gloom as the battered region gropes for its old claws.

"I think the markets are still trying to find a bottom and the currencies are still trying to stabilise," said David Lui of Shroders Investment Management in Hong Kong.

"It would be premature to say we could have a sustainable rise at this juncture."

Feng Shui experts - whose predictions are published in the seventh Credit Lyonnais Securities Asia "Feng Shui" index coinciding with the new year - prophesise instability.

The index predicts a "very difficult" first half of the year for Hong Kong. Things will only improve "near the end of the year when the savage cat finally runs out of energy."

If Asia's economies do not roar in 1998, and manage only to flit about in the Year of the Hare (1999), they will all aim to breath fire by 2000 - the auspicious Year of the Dragon. But some Year of the tiger initiatives will not be able to wait that long.

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