Asia and Latin America May Lead World Markets in '92

FOR 1992, think "global markets."Sluggish economic growth - but still honest-to-goodness expansion - will characterize the global economy in 1992, says William Sterling, manager of international economics for Merrill Lynch & Co. "There will be an anemic, below average recovery in the Anglo-Saxon nations - the US, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia. And there will be sluggish growth in Germany and Japan." But Latin American and Pacific Rim economies (excluding Japan) look especially promising. Despite recession in the United States, "1991 was also a positive year for the industrial nations," Mr. Sterling says. Unfortunately, the slowdown in growth in Eastern Europe, where economies are off 5 to 10 percent, may have been enough to "drag the overall global economy into the negative growth column for the first time since the end of World War II," he says. Barring unusually severe problems in the US in the months ahead, that should not repeat itself next year, he reckons. For investors, ensuring global economic growth is absolutely crucial, since most major corporations, such as the Fortune 500 companies, are either multinational companies, or are indirectly affected by global currency or trade patterns. Current weakness in the dollar, for example, makes American exports more competitive against products from both Germany and Japan. But the dollar is expected to strengthen against the German mark, taking away some of the US trade advantage. Slow global economic growth in 1992 will tend to restrain stock market returns in 1992, according to analysts for Merrill Lynch, T. Rowe Price, and IDS Advisory Group Inc. The consensus: US stock market gains will be positive, although modest next year. IDS, for example, predicts that US equity markets will produce single-digit rates of return in 1992. Corporate profits and cash flow are expected to be "disappointing" over the next 12 months, working against capital spending in the US, according to IDS. Moreover, IDS says the US equities market is currently "fully valued;" a market "correction" of 10 to 15 percent is possible in the US over the next few months - another reason for thinking globally. M. David Testa, chairman of Rowe Price-Fleming International in Baltimore, recently concluded that the US stock market is still "moderately favorable" for 1992, since corporate earnings should gradually rise along with economic recovery. Looking abroad, he sees European markets as offering good opportunities. Current investment conditions, according to T. Rowe Price analysts, favor the German, French, and British stock markets. Because of high interest rates in Europe, some institutional investors are currently taking positions in overseas bonds. For example, Nancy Langwiser, a vice president with Massachusetts Financial Services, and portfolio manager of the MFS Lifetime Global Equity Trust, has taken a position for her fund in both Danish and Spanish government bonds. In Europe, MFS is looking for companies with strong earnings growth potential. An example: EuroDisneyland, which will be running the new Disney theme park in Fr ance. Ms. Langwiser says US markets may actually be stronger next year than those in either Europe or Japan. However, many US stocks are "expensive" in terms of price/earnings ratios. Southeast Asian markets, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, are expected to offer better values. The US does more trade with Asia than with Europe. Japanese-American trade is by far the biggest across the Pacific. (Canada is the largest US trading partner.) Although economic growth in Asia - except Japan - is expected to be a fairly strong 3 to 4 percent in 1992, Latin America may actually do better, according to Sterling of Merrill Lynch. He anticipates economic growth in Latin America to roll in at around 5 percent. Debt reduction programs in the region, slower inflation, plus a resumption of capital flows based on free-market economic programs, should give a boost to many Latin American companies or to US firms trading in the region.

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