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First State Stewart: HK unrest could present rare buying opportunity

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The protests taking place in Hong Kong may eventually provide a rare opportunity to access quality Asia-Pacific companies on the cheap, according to First State Stewart.

The emerging markets team, led by Angus Tulloch (pictured), run emerging market equity funds including the flagship £7.6bn Asia Pacific Leaders fund.

In an update for investors, the team said political unrest in Hong Kong, which has surfaced in the ‘Occupy Central’ movement, is to be expected as a symptom of social tensions in the region.

“It is difficult to predict the impact of current unrest in Hong Kong but it is likely that the Chinese government will not back down,” the team said.

“It is worth noting that much of the unrest in mainland China goes unreported. We have always taken the view that at some point the Chinese people will demand democratic rights from their government.”

Any impact that such protests would have on markets, however, would be viewed favourably in the context of a region which the team say is still providing little in the way of attractive valuations.

“We would view any weakness driven by political developments in Hong Kong or China as an opportunity to buy quality companies at more reasonable prices and we remain positive about the long-term outlook for Hong Kong.”

Protests have been taking place in Hong Kong since September as citizens oppose the Chinese government’s plan to vet candidates for election.

Aside from the protests, the team said the banking and property sectors pose significant risks to economic growth in China.

“We will retain a preference for companies with strong cash flows and balance sheets as well as differentiated and upgraded products as they should survive the downturn better.

“Valuations in China are reasonable, particularly A-Shares, although in certain areas such as internet and pharmaceuticals valuations remain high. We continue to focus on high quality companies with long-term track records and strong management, trading on sensible valutions.”

However, when looking at the wider Asia-Pacific ex-Japan region, the team reaffirmed  reasonably-valued investments are proving hard to come by.

“We find it difficult to find investment opportunities at reasonable valuations, but there are a number of quality companies we would buy on any market pull back.”

First State Asia Pacific Leaders has returned 36.8% over the three years to 4 November, according to FE, compared with an IMA Asia Pacific ex-Japan sector average return of 23.8%.


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