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Asia: a political safe-haven?

Teera Chanpongsang  |  21 Mar 2017Text size  Decrease  Increase  |  

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Asia has historically attracted a political and corporate governance discount to developed markets, but is this still justified today given recent events across the west?


As a long-term investor in Asian equities, I have seen first-hand how policies can influence both capital markets and economies. Therefore, I consistently emphasise maintaining a long-term view and seeking long-term growth.

Asia has favourable demographics, pro-reform governments and an expanding middle class that supports evolving consumption patterns. It is crucial to have a disciplined approach to harness this growth amid an evolving policy environment.

Asia, like other emerging markets, has historically attracted a significant political and corporate governance discount to developed markets, but is this still justified in 2017?

Clearly, the external environment across the developed world has become more uncertain, but what shouldn't be lost among the headlines on Donald Trump and Brexit is the fact that Asia itself has made important steps to promote a more stable economic and political backdrop.

It's encouraging that reform progress is most evident in China and India--the region's largest and most important economies.

In China, the authorities continue to aim for a balance between growth and reform as part of a long-standing objective to transition the economy towards a more sustainable model that is driven by private consumption and services and is less reliant on investment and exports.

China now addressing overcapacity

However, I've also been encouraged by the recent progress that is being made on tackling long-standing issues in China's old heavy industry sectors.

Many of these areas are dominated by state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and the government's renewed emphasis on this area is starting to create some interesting investment opportunities.

The steel sector is a case in point. For years, it has been beset by issues of over-supply, but China has shut down over 50 million tonnes of steel capacity in the last year alone.

This is mirrored in progress at the individual company level, where SOE reforms are helping to better align the interests of management teams with those of minority shareholders.

If we look at Baosteel, for example, it now has to be among the most efficient steel producers globally in order for its management to exercise their stock options.

In practical terms, a greater focus on tackling inefficiencies, controlling costs and boosting profitability is good news for investors and should translate into improved share price performance over time.

Indian reforms set strong footing for multi-year growth story

Elsewhere in the region, India is also in the midst of implementing an ambitious multi-year reform programme under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The government's commitment to implementing much-needed change was reinforced by last month's budget, which contained measures to increase investment in rail and roads along with initiatives to boost rural growth, develop affordable housing and develop the digital economy.

This came hot on the heels of the demonetisation of high value bank notes in November 2016 as the government aimed to formalise India's large unregulated economy and increase the tax base.

The fruit of these measures won't be felt immediately but it is helping set a strong foundation for the Indian economy to thrive for years to come. In particular, the prospects for consumption growth are immense thanks to India's very favourable demographic profile and rich entrepreneurial spirit.

I experienced this first hand on a recent trip to the country where I saw street coconut traders accepting digital payments via customers mobile phones--this would have been unthinkable even a couple of years ago and it really highlights the significant strides the Indian economy has made under the Modi government.

While the outlook for the Indian economy is positive, selectivity and prudence remains key at the individual stock level as there are wide dispersions in valuations, earnings prospects and balance sheet quality.

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Teera Chanpongsang is a portfolio manager with Fidelity International. This is a financial news article to be used for non-commercial purposes and is not intended to provide financial advice of any kind. Opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to the opinions or recommendations of Morningstar as a result of using different assumptions and criteria.

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