People walking past a stall selling Lunar New Year decorations in a market in the Wan Chai district. — AFP photos People walking past a stall selling Lunar New Year decorations in a market in the Wan Chai district. — AFP photos

As the Lunar New Year of the Monkey swings into action today, fortune tellers foresee 12 months of political and financial turbulence at the hands of the mischievous, unpredictable creature. Hong Kong's respected feng shui masters expect an incendiary mix as the monkey combines with the fire element, but also say the year ahead will be a boom time for clever innovation and women will be in the ascendant. The monkey is seen as belonging to the hard metal element, while fire represents the sun, says Hong Kong-based celebrity feng shui master Alion Yeo. "When the two things combine, it creates an extremely high temperature. We have to be prepared for a lot of disputes, sickness," he told AFP.

"One can even associate fire and metal with missiles, bullets or rockets," he said. Feng shui --- literally meaning "wind-water"-is influential in many parts of Asia, where people adjust their lives and renovate offices and homes to maximize their luck and wealth according to its tenets. It is based on ancient philosophy and the belief that all events are dictated by the varying balances in the five elements that make up the universe: metal, wood, water, fire and earth. Feng shui masters in Hong Kong also combine astrology into their art. Hong Kong-based soothsayer Thierry Chow warned of shocking events at the hands of the "fire monkey".

"Fire is dominant in the five elements. When fire is atop monkeys they will be swinging around, they will be difficult to predict. A lot of things will be unexpected," said Chow. The last fire monkey year happened in 1956, when Britain and France invaded Egypt during the Suez Canal crisis, a pivotal event that historians believe marked the demise of British imperial power. But while the monkey may bring instability, it could also herald major innovation, said Chow, as technology falls into the "fire" category. "There could be major breakthroughs in solar-powered energy, fire-related technologies, or the Internet," she told AFP. The lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon and Chinese folklore ascribes 12 animals in rotation. The monkey is in the ninth position.

Financial rollercoaster

In its annual tongue-in-cheek "feng shui index", CLSA, one of Asia's leading brokerages, predicted a "volatile ride" for financial markets. "There are going to be a lot of ups and downs. The monkey is a creature who is tricky and cunning," Cherry Ma of the firm's feng shui team said. "There will be fluctuations but it also means opportunities for fast-movers," she said. The outgoing Year of the Sheep saw turbulence in global markets and a rout in China stocks with fears of an economic slowdown on the mainland. Yeo predicts February and August will be the roughest times for investors, as the months clash with the presiding cosmic deity of the year, known as the "Tai Sui". "There will be a transfer of wealth (in February and August)... money will be lost," Yeo said.

Trump to meet match

The Year of the Monkey may look foreboding, but feng shui masters say women may benefit, as they fall within the fire category. This is particularly true for Taiwan's president-elect Tsai Ing-wen, born in a fire monkey year in 1956, according to Chow. Tsai won a landslide victory in January, unseating the ruling Kuomintang to become the island's first female president. She will take the reins in May. "Women are compatible with the fire element. They will be empowered. They can go to the front of the stage or get promotions," says Chow. The year promises a "big change" and "house moving" for Tsai, she adds.

It could also spell trouble for United States presidential hopeful Donald Trump-heavily criticized for his sexist views-as he campaigns for the Republican nomination. Hillary Clinton is campaigning for the Democrat nomination. "The divination for the US is that the sun will be eaten by the moon... the sun represents men and the moon represents the women," said Yeo. "The sun eaten by the moon means the woman will dominate and win."-AFP