Rising interest rates and inflation woes continued to weigh on regional and global markets. US consumer prices registered above expectations with the August consumer price index (CPI) jumping 8.3% year-on-year (YoY). The tight labour market made further case for a rate hike, culminating in a 75-basis-point (bps) interest rate hike by the US Federal Reserve (Fed).
Between still high levels of inflation, fast-tightening central banks, a growing energy crisis in Europe and slow growth in China, it is easy to imagine a bleak growth outlook. But these difficult dynamics also harbour opportunities often masked in exaggerated mispricing based on fear and confusion.
This month we analyse what immediate impact the full reopening of Japan could have on the economy and markets; we also review the factors that may make Prime Minister Kishida’s “asset-income doubling plan” more effective in the long term.
The current environment in fixed income is definitely challenging for investors as the rate cycle has turned. However, we believe that by unlocking the full performance potential of the different credit asset classes achieving positive absolute performance is still possible.
Our scenario is fairly ugly for the 4Q, but has a strong silver lining thereafter. We are not optimistic about the global economy and investor returns reverting to normal for an extended period, but there should be clear intermediate term relief and pockets of strong outperformance due to idiosyncratic advantages.
The world is fast entering the adjustment phase as deglobalisation is accelerating, requiring new solutions and investment to clear new imbalances from energy supply to labour and eventually normalise inflation.
In recent years, the increased focus on ESG has validated our beliefs. Yet, the complex and fast-changing economies and societies that make up Asia continue to be a challenge confronting investors looking to apply ESG analysis across Asian asset classes. This is a good thing, as investors who can do this successfully will likely add even more value to alpha generation.
Inflationary pressures continued to remain elevated in July, as the headline CPI numbers in South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines increased, while those of Thailand and India moderated. During the month, the central banks of Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea and India raised their key policy rates.
The regional index of the MSCI AC Asia ex Japan in August was flat at 0.0% in US dollar terms, recovering after falling into negative territory earlier. The North Asian region was weighed down by foreign currency effects, trailing behind its ASEAN counterpart. India benefitted from its rate hike and lower oil prices.
In an encouraging sign for New Zealand equities, the benchmark NZX 50 Index ended August approximately 10% higher compared to the lows it saw in June, when it dropped below the 11,000 level for the first time in two years. However, the market still faces challenges given that at the end of August the index was also down about 10% compared to the start of 2022.
New Zealand bonds went through a tough period in August. The rough patch reflects continuing uncertainty, with the bond market undecided about whether it should focus on inflation itself or pay more specific attention to the measures that central banks are adopting to deal with it.
This month we discuss the factors behind Japan’s high level of share buybacks; we also look at the economic implications of COVID in the wake of a particularly large infection wave.
Utilising and regenerating Japan’s ample forest resources by promoting a “wood cycle” could contribute to the creation of economic wealth and a net-zero carbon future.
The just-released 2Q CY22 data on aggregate corporate profits in Japan was very positive, with the overall corporate recurring pre-tax profit margin hitting a record high on a four quarter average.
Our belief is that we have moved into a new regime where inflation will be structurally higher despite the anchors of high debt burdens, ageing societies and ongoing technological disruption.
We are taking a more constructive view in duration overall, as we believe that the markets have largely priced in hawkish Fed expectations. Among the low-yielding countries, we prefer Singapore and Hong Kong, while we like Malaysia and India among the mid- to high-yielding countries. On currencies, we maintain our preference for the Singapore dollar.
It may be easy to become gloomy after the drawdown of the last few months. But we believe that there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the prospects for compounding your future capital from today’s levels, if you take into account the following three steps: 1) recognise that that we have shifted to a different road type, and it is rougher and more variable; 2) realise that this new road may be best travelled with different vehicles; and 3) improve your probabilities by sticking to a few enduring principles.
The shift in market narratives continues to gather pace, matching the increase in volatility of the economic cycle seen since the beginning of the pandemic. Central banks are generally aiming to smooth the economic cycle, but this time they may be adding to the volatility of the cycle instead.
Higher commodity prices impacted returns in Asia, while a slip in prices of crude oil and metals benefitted many Asian nations. We expect the future trajectory of inflation to dictate the path of interest rates, which in turn is seen determining economic growth globally.