Imagine you are an investor focusing on regional markets including Taiwan and decide to review what portfolio would be best for the year. Taiwan would not be the kind of market you would feel excited about because its annual gain of 6.66 percent last year lagged far behind some of its Asian neighbors. South Korea, for instance, saw its stocks surge 53.96 percent last year and was crowned the best performing market in Asia. It was followed by India (42.3 percent), Japan (40.2 percent), Australia (17.6 percent) and Singapore (13.6 percent).
Of course, there are markets whose performances lagged behind Taiwan's. Hong Kong's benchmark index gained a modest 4.5 percent for 2005, while Malaysia's key index fell 0.84 percent from the previous year. Shanghai's index fell 8.3 percent from its 2004 close, its worst year-end close in seven years.
There were a number of negative factors -- surging global oil prices, concerns over avian flu and a persistent domestic political confrontation -- which put pressure on the local market last year. The point is that although Taiwan registered a GDP growth rate of only 2.54 percent in the first quarter of last year, followed by a marginal improvement of 3.6 percent in the second, evidence shows that economic recovery began taking place in the third and that momentum is expected to build this year.
With net purchases of Taiwanese stocks by foreign investors reaching a record NT$719.41 billion (US$21.9 billion) for 2005, the benchmark TAIEX ended the year at 6,548.34 points, its third straight annual rise. According to Taiwan Stock Exchange figures, the total market value of local stocks increased NT$1.7 trillion last year alone. The figures can be translated into an increment of around NT$688,000 for each of the 2.47 million investors who traded shares in this country.
So, what about the market for this year? Apart from the likelihood that capital inflow will continue in the first quarter -- given that the local market still has ample room to catch up with other Asian markets -- a number of GDP forecasts from various institutes confirm that the economy has been on a upward trend since SARS-ridden 2003.
The Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics forecasts a growth rate of 4.08 percent for the year, and this estimate is echoed by both Academia Sinica and Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research forecasts with predictions of 4.25 percent and 4.01 percent respectively. Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc is even more optimistic, predicting 5.0 percent growth this year.
Generally the economy seems set to fare well this year. But why do the Council for Economic Planning and Development's manufacturer confidence index and the National Central University's consumer confidence index claim that investor confidence will remain relatively weak this year? Perhaps the polls reflect concern over the diminishing trade surplus, continued industrial relocation, rising consumer debt and the cross-strait standoff.
So what should people take into consideration before investing? The strength of the US stock market is a solid starting point since Taipei tends to follow Wall Street -- based on the close trade relationship between companies in both economies. Taking the Alternative Minimum Tax on corporate earnings and the stricter accounting rules contained in the Statements of Financial Accounting Standard No. 34 into consideration is also recommended.