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The Feng Shui view

Monday, January 23, 2012
The Edge
By: Kang Wan Chern

Step into feng shui master Joey Yap's office at Mid Valley, Kuala Lumpur, and one notices the glaring absence of geomantic paraphernalia commonly found in the homes and workplaces of other practitioners. In contrast, Yap's shop is spotless and Spartan. The main foyer has a receptionist's counter and several waiting chairs with shelves of feng shui and astrology books Yap has authored, the only giveaway that you are not in a clinic.

Yap himself is also unpretentiously clad in a pink long-sleeved shirt- he wears no amulets or rings for protection or luck- and unaffected by eccentric airs and graces. Indeed, those who do not know Yap may mistake him for an ordinary, mild- mannered accountant. However, the 34-year old is one of the few practitioners who have successfully commercialized the ancient Chinese art of feng shui and turned it into a profitable business.

Brighter Outlook

More importantly, Yap says the Year of the Dragon will hold investment opportunities in selected sectors as the economy begins to show signs of improvement. "Based on the 2012 Dragon year chart, I see no major element clashes, so 2012 will be better year than 2011," says Yap in an interview with the Edge Singapore. "This is contrary to what we are seeing in the media where everything appears to be all doom and gloom but the chart does not show an economic apocalypse this year."

However, the bad news is that the South East Asian region could be in for some natural disasters or political unrest. "This year, the No.5 star- which is the most malevolent star in astrology- appears to be headed for the southeast, which is where we are," says Yap. Last year, that star was positioned in the far east, over Japan, where an 8.9 magnitude earthquake generated a tsunami which claimed thousands of loves and damaged the country's nuclear power plants.

In that light, major Southeast Asian economies such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam could see some major water-related disasters such as floods or tsunamis at the beginning of the year owing to a surplus of the water element, according to the charts. The region could also experience an earthquake or two between April and May, July and August as well as October and November owing to the presence of the earth element, despite an improving global economy.

"Singapore has just a bit of earth on its individual chart so the country could experience tremors from nearby earthquakes," Yap predicts. "We see that the fire element also appears around June and July, so there could be some volcanic activity in the region."

In general, the world will see floods in countries that don't usually have them, Yap adds. Meanwhile, he is also expecting to see some "asteroid movements and celestial activities in outer space. We will start to hear Nasa report weird sightings in space this year,"he says. "All that may cause some setback to the global economy, but it won't be the end of the world and there will be no major disaster in 2012."

Hot Sectors

Although it is hard to be positive about investing in equities with ominous predictions for the new year, Yap believes there are gains to be made in the market. "This year's chart actually indicates a surplus of money in the hands of investors," which could be put to good use as growth in the economy begins to pick up between July and August after four years of poor or negative growth, says Yap. He believes now could be the right time for investors with a one-to-two–year horizon to start accumulating stocks. "Beyond 2012, 2013-14 promises to be better years for growth and returns," he says.

Yap is most bullish on the consumer goods and retail sector and recommends looking at familiar franchises such as Watsons Personal Care stores. Watsons is part of Hong Kong based AS Watson Group, which is in turn part of the conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa. Meanwhile, soft commodities such as coffee and palm oil should improve going forward, while education and healthcare stocks should be good bets in 2012.

Things could also get interesting on the tech front. Specifically, Yap believes the battle for a greater share of the smartphone and tablet market between Samsung and Apple will intensify this year with Tim Cook replacing Steve Jobs at the helm of Apple. "We will see Samsung close the gap with Apple but other competitors will join the fight as well," says Yap. As such, investors should keep a close watch on global tech stocks before plunging into the sector this year.

But investors should be on guard when it comes to investing in property. "The elements indicate that property (prices) will fall but it won't be the major drop everyone is looking for," says Yap, who is also an active investor in the Malaysia and Singapore property markets. Owing to a shortage of the earth element, property prices should fall by a small percentage in 1H2012 before picking up again and eventually stabilizing for the rest of the year.

Banking on metaphysics

While feng shui skeptics abound, there are many who take Yap's advice seriously. The Joey Yap Consulting Group is one of the Asia's most prominent providers of feng shui solutions, with five consultants on its payroll and clients ranging from multinational banks in Singapore, mining companies in India to land developers in Canada. Consultations can cost up to RM50,000 per session.

In addition, Yap is also a trainer at the Joey Yap Mastery Academy of Chinese Metaphysics, which is qualified to issue diplomas to students who have completed courses. Meanwhile, a large portion of Yap's time is spent on conducting talks; his recent annual Feng shui & Astrology for 2012 seminar in Singapore's Raffles City Convention Center, for instance, drew some 2,700 paying enthusiasts. Yap has also written and published at least 75 books on feng shui and astrology over the past 15 years.

So how does feng shui work? Basically, the concept focuses on drawing in positive energy, or qi, from the environment to improve luck at home and in the workplace. "High levels of positive qi make people energetic and feel good, so they perform well, whereas if the energy level is low or negative, people get upset easily and that affects their work and decision making," Yap explains.

Positive qi revolves around maintaining a balance between the five basic qi elements-wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. For instance, a balance among the five elements means a "fabulous year for the market", but clashes indicate that things will be problematic. In the year of the Rabbit 2011, clashes between wood and metal elements culminated in volatile food prices and Europe's debt woes. In feng shui, wood represents soft commodities such as grain and coffee, while metal represents the financial industry, says Yap. Based on the 2011 chart, clashes between wood and metal resulted in betrayals, clashes and disputes among global leaders and between governments and people.

Yap earns revenue from imparting the knowledge needed to draw positive energy levels into the home or workplace and neutralize bad fortunes arising from clashes in the elements. But Yap claims he is "totally different" from other feng shui consultants in the market. "True feng shui is all about aligning the space in your home or office to the right location and direction and at the right time to make sure you receive positive external energy. It is not about object placement and has no religious connotations," he stresses.

There are quite a few consultants who have successfully commercialized feng shui and they include grand master Lilian Too (also Kuala Lumpur based) who runs a thriving business giving talks, consulting and selling feng shui artifacts. For instance, her 3 Celestial Guardian Plaque protects the family from harm, while the Wish Granting Tree of Life- to be placed in the living room- invites prosperity and opportunities. In fact, the entire set of Home Protection Kits for 2012 is available for sale at US$515 ($660) each at the World of Feng Shui, the merchandising franchise founded by Too about a decade ago.

Even so, Yap is standing by his beliefs. Indeed, while empty of any decorative effects, every doorway in Yap's spotless office is deliberately positioned in the west, south and northeast directions to maximize the flow of qi for the new year. "Feng shui is actually a tool for problem-solving as well as means for attracting more opportunities. Good feng shui opens doors, but in order to benefit from them, you must take the right action and change your destiny for the better, "he says.

Yap first took an interest in feng shui as a teenager in Kuala Lumpur. While pursuing an accounting degree at Curtin University in Perth at the age of 19, he was already charging for consultations and astrology readings even as his peers part-timed as waiters in restaurants. On his return to Kuala Lumpur upon graduation, Yap started his company and ended up not having to bank on his accounting qualifications for a living. "Metaphysics is so much more enjoyable than accounting," says Yap.

Whatever the case, Yap still advise investors to first do their homework before leaping blindly into the market based on his advice alone. "Generally, there are two types of investors. Those who know what they are doing and those who don't," he says. "Those that do can invest with less risk and also increase their returns by an even greater scale by putting the principles of good feng shui to use."

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