Beware news from the East

 

Just when the traders were preparing to leave their desks, patting each other on the backs over winning performances in another record year for equities, the bottom threatens to fall out of the market in the Far East once more.

Japan's 5 per cent drop at the end of last week following the bankruptcy of one of Japan's leading food and commodities trading companies, Toshoku. The collapse was yet another reminder of the immense problems surrounding the region. Other leading far eastern markets, including Hong Kong and Seoul, also suffered significant falls.

European and American markets fell back following the latest slide with the Dow Jones Industrial Average sustained a three-figure fall overnight, as investors fretted about the potential impact on US corporate earnings of the continuing weakness of Far Eastern markets and the ever-growing list of bank and broking company failures in the region.

In the US, the earnings season is just around the corner and what's in store for the final quarter of the year may provide clues about 1998 - only Wall Street has yet to figure the Asian turmoil into profit forecasts for early next year.

Wall Street has already been given a taste of things to come when companies start to announce fourth-quarter results in mid-January. Earnings warnings have sent stocks tumbling, confirming that unlike a year ago, when the market was orbiting at record highs amid a perfect investment climate, the environment will be tougher this time around.

While the effect on multi-national jobs in Ireland has already been seen with the redundancies at Seagate and AST, it is more difficult to predict what 1998 holds in store for the stock market and Christmas week may yet provide important pointers with a raft of data from Japan due over the week.

British indicators: Two key pieces of economic news due out next week in Britain are the gross domestic product figures on Monday and the trade figures on Tuesday.

Analysts expect the third quarter GDP to show the economy is growing at 0.9 per cent, unchanged on the previous figures, and providing evidence for those who say there is no need for further interest rate rises.

The trade figures should give an indication of what effect the strong pound is having on imports and exports, with analysts looking for Britain's deficit to narrow slightly, from £1.3 billion sterling to £1.2 billion.

Computer games: With so few results around, those traders that are in the office will turn their attention to shareholder meetings. Lots of youngsters will be unwrapping computer games this Christmas which should be good news for Rage Software - producer of games such as Striker - which holds its annual meeting tomorrow.

Shareholders will be looking for an update on progress on its new efforts, adventure game Incoming, which is being used to show off Intel's latest superchip. And with the year of the World Cup Finals looming, the loss-making group has high hopes for Striker '98, developed with the help of Chelsea player-manager Ruud Gullit.

German banking: Apart from the turmoil emanating from the Far East, analysts this week will be closely watching Deutsche Bank, which on Friday declined to comment on market speculation that it was preparing a takeover bid for rival, Commerzbank.

A banking source called the rumours "nonsense" but in a quiet week on the corporate front any rumour is likely to have a disproportionate effect on shore performance.

Monday

Results: Freepages Group, Sketchley (H1).

A.G.M.: C H Bailey, Cleveland Trust (e.g.m.), Ennex International (e.g.m.), Full Circle (e.g.m.), Stentor (e.g.m.).

Indicators: French consumer spending (Nov); British current account (Q3) and GDP (Q3); Italian consumer prices (Dec).

Tuesday

Results: Acatos & Hutcheson, CA Sperati, Stewart & Wight (H1).

A.G.M.: Cresco International (e.g.m.), Firstbus (e.g.m.), Rage.

Indicators: British trade data ((Oct) and non-EU trade (Nov); US real GDP (Q3), durable goods orders (Nov), price index (Q3) and Michigan Sentiment Survey (Dec); French trade balance (Oct), consumer prices (Nov) and housing starts (Nov).

Wednesday

Meetings: Irish-Swedish business association.

Indicators: US personal income/spending data (Nov); Japanese industrial production (Nov).

Others: Irish Stock Exchange closes for Christmas holiday in the afternoon.

Thursday

Indicators: Japanese leading indicators (Oct) and retail sales (Nov).

Others: Christmas Day markets closed.

Friday

Indicators: Japanese consumer prices (Nov) and US weekly monetary data.

Others: Markets closed for Christmas holiday.