The case for investing in Asia and how to access it

Written by: Darius McDermott
Given US equities are expensive, the outlook for the UK economy is clouded and eurozone concerns persist despite the French election result, an area where investors can find solid fundamentals, reasonable valuations and a large universe of stocks to choose from has surely got to be appealing. Asia is arguably that region.

Before I go any further, I feel duty-bound to remind readers that Asia is by and large considered ’emerging’ and does carry the kinds of risks one would usually associate with developing economies. These can include less stable currencies, less corporate governance and more volatile stock markets

Bearing this in mind, however, it is still interesting to take a look at the landscape in a few of Asia’s biggest markets right now.

Modi’s majority in India

Prime minister Narendra Modi has already made laudable reform progress since he was elected in India in 2014. Earlier this year, he further cemented his mandate with significant wins from his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in several state elections, notably Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. Many believe this will eventually translate to a majority in both the upper and lower houses for the BJP, making it easier to pass reform legislation.

Although this upper house majority may not be achieved until after the 2019 general election, in any case the state results indicate a fairly likely federal re-election of the BJP. Indian shares are perennially expensive compared to other emerging markets (and are currently trading above their own long-term average too), but there are some good active managers who are still finding value through extensive on-the-ground research and a tilt to small and medium-sized firms. I like Ashburton India Equity Opportunities and Goldman Sachs India Equity Portfolio.

Abe leads the way in Japan

Although not often talked about alongside other Asia Pacific countries because its economy is (in theory) better developed and affected by different drivers, Japan is interesting nonetheless due to its prime minister’s own ‘supermajority’ in both the upper and lower houses since last July.

Reform remains key for this country whose economy has struggled to beat deflation for more than two decades. Abe’s parliamentary hold puts him in a strong position to continue pushing for change across key areas including women in the workforce, wage growth and pension payments. Unlike India, Japanese equities are currently cheaper than their average, partly due to concerns around the long-term economic outlook in such an ageing demography. But Japan has plenty of dynamic, young entrepreneurs too and the Baillie Gifford Shin Nippon investment trust is a very pure way to access them. If you’re after something a bit less adventurous, Schroder Tokyo takes a more cautious approach with a focus on quality businesses.

Xi Jinping likely to secure second term

Whatever one might accuse Xi Jinping of in his career, it is unlikely to be a lack of political control. Since coming to power five years ago, Xi’s reach has been wide, incorporating the military, foreign policy, state-owned banks and a formidable anti-corruption commission. Whether all this has been entirely positive for the economy and share market is debatable, but when it comes to political stability, China probably takes the cake. Most believe Xi will secure a second five-year term this autumn.

Despite tensions between China and other powerhouses including the US and Japan, the Chinese economy is vying very closely for the position of the largest in the world and there are some excellent funds that concentrate on the consumer growth story. I’ve mentioned before Invesco Perpetual Hong Kong & China, which I like both for its large holdings in consumer and technology stocks, as much as its avoidance of financial firms, which are among the riskier propositions on the Chinese stock market.

Darius McDermott is managing director of Chelsea Financial Services 

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