Asia continues to lag other regions for integrating ESG principles with investing; better data and stronger regulatory requirements will help institutional investors, market observers say.
For one investment advisor, investments and business deals are made on nothing but gut. Clive Whitby describes himself as an intuitive business consultant. Others call him a psychic. He says his business, for wealthy individuals and corporations in Asia, Europe and Australia, where he lives, is booming.
His intuitive powers are ôlimitlessö, if you simply ask him a direct question û although he may require some help with the jargon. For example, asking him about spreads on emerging-market debt doesnÆt trigger a response because he readily admits to having virtually no background in financial services.
But he says his intuition can guide decisions on any financial market, in any geography. ôStock price movements are based on sentimentality, not on processes, charts and graphs,ö he says. ôThese are things I hear internally, not from conversations.ö
This extends beyond Anglo-Saxon culture: he says he advises Chinese individuals on property deals with the help of a translator.
Whitby knows his profession suffers from a bad reputation û partly because so many of his ôcolleaguesö, as he terms them, are ôflakesö. Whitby comes off as straightforward, and dresses for the jet set û grey-on-black suit, trim figure, topped by white hair in an expensive-looking spiky cut; professional with a New Age touch. ôIÆm a very grounded person,ö he says.
Born in England, he moved to Australia where he began to consult people using his intuition. Initially it was personal stuff û advising women about a new boyfriend, or men regarding the job hunt. Several years ago, while advising a woman on a personal matter, he gave the husband a view on a pending real-estate deal. That got him into property, business and financial markets, an area where he now specializes.
(Apparently psychics, like bankers or investors, also find niches: Whitby speaks of one colleague in Australia who specializes in missing persons. Whitby says he has written to the police once or twice about where to find the bodies, but otherwise keeps his distance from this sort of work. ôI have found quite a few dogs though,ö he says.)
His ability to intuit market directions hasnÆt made him rich, although he says his own portfolio has done all right. Admitting this raises questions of his credibility, he suggests clients should determine whether they find his advice works.
Whitby says he predicted the rise of oil prices three years ago, when the oil price hovered below $50/barrel, and did invest some money, selling when the price hit $130/barrel earlier this year.
So whatÆs in store?
He says he has strong images regarding the state of American politics and economics: ôThe market is in a slow meltdown until April , then it will consolidate. But the presidential election will have a big impact. Beyond that, there is an enormous black hole.ö
It is his gut sense that the presidency of George W. Bush has been compromised by a syndicate of cronies involved in oil and finance, which has led to seven years of bad management. The current housing collapse, credit crunch and subsequent pain in other economies is the result. He fears that Bush, now on his way out, may do something reckless to maintain high oil prices for his buddies for as long as possible.
Regarding the US economy: ôI see an enormous black hole waiting to be uncovered. ItÆs like with a volcano, when it blows out, weÆll see where the bankers have been putting their money. The process is starting now in the US, and after the election there will be nothing left but steam, and when that clears, we will see an enormous black hole. The volcano is just starting to blow now, there will be more to come, and oil prices will go up again.ö
In terms of investment advice: ôGold is always a safe bet when there is a crisis. Stocks will fluctuate but consolidate and find a bottom in three or four monthsÆ time; ordinary investors wonÆt return, only professional investors will be left. Real estate will continue to slide worldwide, rapidly. Alternative energy has to be a good investment but right now itÆs too expensive, there isnÆt enough political support û but we are now at the peak for cars with combustion engines.ö
The problem with intuition, Whitby says, is that the image or words he hears may be strong, but interpreting them is difficult. AmericaÆs enormous black hole: does this refer to vacant homes? The level of consumer indebtedness? A metaphor for AmericansÆ realization of their true problems? Here, Whitby cannot say for sure, although heÆs confident the image means that ôthere will be a knock-on effect to banksö, adding that the sector has not yet seen the worst.
As for Hong Kong, he says it is not immune to these problems. ôBut IÆve always felt Hong Kong is a protected place,ö one that should survive the eruption.
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