When he speaks, you listen. Master Choi Pak-lai does not speak much, but his accuracy is somewhat better than that of Li Ka-shing, Goldman Sachs or many sensible political analysts.
That is because the 96-year-old master is the third-generation descendant of a family that has been specializing in the astronomical calendar for 120 years. His signature Choi Gen Po Tong Chinese Almanac is widely used by Hong Kong families to set dates for important events such as weddings and the signing of contracts.
It is not just his record of high accuracy, but Master Choi seems to have been right for a long time.
In an interview three weeks ago, he told a Hong Kong daily that the market might slow down. He said he was not sure the Hang Seng Index would reach 35,000, suggesting it might gradually slow down.
Those who took his words of advice might have avoided the sudden meltdown in the past week.
It is not easy to make a contrarian call at the peak of the bull run that saw the Hang Seng Index surge 10% in a month in the best kick-off of the year. But he said investors should be on the cautious side and avoid being overly aggressive.
Now, after showing off his track record, what advice does he offer in the Year of Dog, which starts this Friday?
His spring prediction is not positive because he noted that gold is lacking in the five fung shui elements, where the wood was offset by the earth.
He pointed out that this Year of the Dog coincided with the famous hundred days of reform back in 1898 of the Qing Dynasty, so the political debate will likely go on with more intensity.
Sector-wise, he saw a soft property market, and a lukewarm finance market, but tipped that high-technology would dominate for the year.
He saw a volatile market, especially in March, when he called for caution. Spring will be worse until summer, when there is a rebound before an August retreat, but the market will get better after September.
In terms of the Chinese zodiac, he sees most animals – rat, cow, goat, chicken and pig – as mediocre, with the dragon the worst.
He cautioned people born in the Year of the Chicken (1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017) to be cautious in health, but noted that those born in previous Years of the Dog should be all right despite the fact that the animal of the same year usually gets upset.
Overall, he asked his believers to take the headwinds in stride, and brace for a so-so year.