Cowed or bullish?

What does the Year of the Ox hold for China, Obama and the economy?

Cowed or bullish?

China’s Lunar New Year is traditionally celebrated with jiaozi – boiled dumplings – and enough fireworks to make the Fourth of July look like a pyrotechnic pygmy.

This year was no different. Despite the grim economy, firework sales were up 28% from the year before in Beijing, reported Xinhua. A vendor in Shanghai who sells fireworks has his own theory: “People want to scare away the bad luck and the rat year.”

The Year of the Shu (Rat or Mouse) – which was accompanied by natural disasters in China and the global financial crisis – will surely not be missed. In comparison, the Year of the Niu (Ox, Bull or Cow) is meant to be calmer and more subdued, if you subscribe to the ancient Chinese belief in feng shui.

According to feng shui principles, the universe is made up of five elements – earth, water, fire, wood, and metal – earth being the calmest of the five elements. “2009 will be a ‘pure earth’ year,” reckons Raymond Lo, a feng shui master in Hong Kong. This apparently means fire will be missing: depriving global stock markets of a much-needed push. Other experts have expressed similar concern about the absence of metal in the Year of the Niu, an element connected to money. A metal year, they say, would bring gold. On the contrary, an earth year buries gold – for which read, prosperity – under piles of dirt.

Lo believes that buying stocks in the second half would be wise – he forecasts there will be a recovery in 2010 (as a cautionary note, Lo predicted a stock market correction last year, but also urged investors to put money into the property market).

Vincent Koh of the Singapore Feng Shui Centre tells his clients to be patient and not expect high returns. In short, this bull will not bring a bull market.

So what does the Year of the Ox hold for us all? For those who were born in a Year of the Ox (such as 1949, 1961, 1973, or any year 12 years before or after), don’t get too excited because it is your astrological year. In fact, according to feng shui principles, being born under the same sign as the cycle year – Barack Obama is an ox, for example – is highly inauspicious. Having offended the presiding ‘god’, oxen are going to have a tumultuous year ahead. Financially, there is an unlucky star in their money field so they must plan their finances carefully (that would mean your $1.2 trillion deficit, Mr President).

In the meantime, it’s good news if you are a Tiger (1950, 1962, 1974) or a Snake (1953, 1965, 1977). These astrological symbols are very much in synch with the presiding god, according to Su Minfeng, a feng shui master who writes for the Hong Kong Economic Times. ‘Snake’ people, in fact, are going to have the best financial luck of all this year; and ‘Tigers’ will dazzle their peers.

With superstition ingrained in their DNA, the Chinese are strong believers in feng shui. In ancient times, feng shui masters acted as key advisors to Chinese emperors; even today, many businessmen still seek advice from feng shui masters to ensure their luck is not constrained. The Hong Kong Disneyland, for instance, changed the angle of its main entrance after consulting a feng shui expert. And to be fair, in today’s dire economic times, with financial markets apparently going haywire, feng shui masters’ predictions could well be more reliable than those of economists.

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