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Chinese Year of the Goat Could Bring Disaster, Life Long Bad Luck - 2003-01-30

More than a billion Chinese people around the world prepare to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Many visit fortune tellers to find out what the coming year will bring in health, romance and business.

In a busy night market in the Hong Kong neighborhood of Kowloon, men and women are huddled in serious conversations with Chinese geomancers.

Under the Chinese horoscope, the new year will be the year of the goat, which geomancers say is a tricky one. It could bring natural disasters and life-long bad luck to babies born this year.

High unemployment is plaguing Hong Kong and the visitors to the fortune tellers are asking for a bit of help, hoping this year will be better than last.

Chinese geomancy, called feng shui, is based on five elements: metal, earth, fire, water and wood. During the year of the goat, feng shui masters say earth and water will dominate.

Besides natural disasters and bad luck, feng shui masters say goat years over the past century have been characterized, paradoxically, by war and attempts to build world peace.

In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles settled World War I and Mahatma Gandhi launched his non-violent resistance movement against India's British colonial government. The year of the goat also ushered in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

But war broke out in the Middle East twice in past goat years: the Arab-Israeli war in 1967 and the Gulf War in 1991.

Raymond Lo, a high-profile feng shui master in Hong Kong, says the earth element suggests another conflict in the desert. He adds that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, whose Chinese astrological sign is believed to be a bull, will be defeated.

Overall, goat years are deemed dangerous for political leaders. Juan Peron, Benito Mussolini and the Shah of Iran were all toppled during goat years.

Feng shui masters say when it comes to business, this year of the goat will bless China above all other nations. They say China is on the eve of a 20-year run of good luck.

Kenny Lau is a financial analyst with investment bank CLSA, and helps compile the bank's annual lighthearted Feng Shui Index. He says China's prosperity is expected to trickle into Hong Kong, which has been battling record unemployment, deflation and large government deficits.

But he warns that the territory's beleaguered property market, represented by earth, may not improve.

"We see two elements, earth and water, will be very strong," he explained. " The problem is, normally earth absorbs water but water is so strong that water would turn earth into mud. That means we should not expect too much on property prices."

Mr. Lau, jokingly known as "The Wicked Sorcerer of the East," compiles the predictions of top feng shui masters and plots the expected up and downs of the stock market.

He says the Hong Kong market will peak in June, go through very volatile trading in September, then remain steady for the rest of the year. He adds that gold will be a good investment, boldly predicting its price will go up more than 10 percent, to as high as $420 an ounce.

Mr. Lo, the feng shui master, also warns of a steep decline in stocks in August or September, and says that the best time to enter the market is now, as the year of the goat begins.

He adds that this year will be good for companies in retail, consumer products, finance and entertainment but bad for high technology, travel and transport companies.

But as CLSA's Mr. Lau warns, investors should not take these predictions too seriously. Fortune tellers, like analysts, can be wrong.