Forget about graphs, charts and economic forecasts. Wary investors in Asia are turning to feng shui masters to tell them which way the markets will head in the Chinese Year of the Rat.
Perhaps not surprisingly for investors already burnt by recent stock market slides, feng shui experts are predicting a gloomy year for shares, not good news for those hoping for a rebound in global markets hit by worries over the U.S. economy.
"The rat will become aggressive at the tail end of the year and its underlying water element will cool the stock market," said Vincent Koh, a feng shui master at Singapore Feng Shui Centre.
Feng shui is popular across East Asia, where it is traditionally practiced by ethnic Chinese. It relies on movements of the cosmos as well as placement of furniture and arranging space to generate a "flow of wealth."
Believers say it can be used to improve wealth, health and personal relationships.
In Hong Kong and Singapore, it's taken so seriously that corporations consult feng shui experts about everything from business strategy to interior design. Disneyland changed the angle of the main entrance of its Hong Kong theme park after consulting a feng shui expert.
So great is the interest in feng shui, that CLSA, a regional brokerage house, issued a feng shui client note which predicted the stock market would rise from May to August and the U.S. dollar would remain weak.
"Be mindful of your speculations, especially in the third quarter," said the note, which CLSA described as "topical" rather than a formal investment advisory.
Raymond Lo, a feng shui master in Hong Kong who does readings for corporations, expects industries linked to earth and metal signs to flourish during the Year of the Rat.
"The rat is a symbol of money to the earth industry ... Strong water element in the year indicates productivity and strong activity in the metal industries," said Lo, who suggested investors put their money into property, mining and gold.
He predicts stock markets will be soft this year as the elements of earth and water, which he says are strong in the Year of the Rat, weaken the fire element that influences shares.
"The water element affects the fire of the markets. I can foresee a lot of correction in the stock market," said Koh.
With stocks markets from Japan to New York cooling since the start of the year on concerns of a global economic slowdown, sceptics may argue that you don't need to be a feng shui master to make such predictions.
Yet Malaysian feng shui master Yap Boh Chu is optimistic with predictions that Southeast Asian markets will be stable after a tumultuous start.
"The whole concept we have for the year is the image of a seed sprouting from the ground -- the beginning is hard," he said.
Rites and Rituals
Lim, a dealer at a Singapore brokerage house, has his fortune read annually at the start of the Chinese New Year and he adorns his office with bull figurines in the hope of a bullish market.
He is a big believer in Ba Zi or "four pillars of destiny," Chinese fortune telling that uses the date and time of birth to determine your life path.
However, despite his superstitious beliefs in bulls, Lim's investments have taken a hit as Singapore's benchmark Straits Times Index has fallen 15 percent since the start of the year.
"I can't say that it works or it doesn't work -- when the market is down, there's not much you can do to not lose money," Lim said.
Terence Tea, chief executive of copper recycling firm Advance SCT, gets feng shui masters to vet his firm's blueprints before construction begins on new offices, factories and other facilities.
But despite his devotion to the art, he admits that feng shui is not entirely responsible for his wealth and success.
"I think feng shui has helped my business, but being hardworking is fundamental," Tea said.
Many may be sceptical that feng shui or other fortune telling can bring in riches. And even the faithful in the financial community realise its limitations.
"Unfortunately we have no predictions on who will win Euro 2008 or who will be the next U.S. president," CLSA said in its feng shui report.