Asian stocks had a tough start to 2022 amid concerns that persistent inflation could cause any tightening by the US Federal Reserve (Fed) to be more aggressive than expected. For the month, the MSCI AC Asia ex Japan Index fell by 3.10% in US dollar (USD) terms.
Increasing expectations of a more aggressive Fed tightening cycle have led to a sell-off in US Treasuries. We share our thoughts on what this means for investors in 2022 and discuss our outlook for Asian bond markets.
We see the volatility in the New Zealand markets as an opportunity to focus on new companies for which we have a high degree of confidence in their earnings.
Inflation is creating challenges for the New Zealand bond market and economy. In line with bond markets around the world, New Zealand’s market has had a difficult start to 2022. Bond yields and interest rates in general have been climbing as central banks hike rates to tackle soaring inflation.
We highlight the increasing importance of engagement in Japan, explain how it could be the key to unlocking the long-underperforming Japanese market’s potential, and assess how it can lead to the generation of alpha.
Going back to India for a month after two long years of not being able to visit my family, I was pleasantly surprised by the new normal. While there has been much adversity, COVID-19 has also sparked positive change, especially on technology adoption.
It would not be surprising if the major swings in the markets and macroeconomic conditions, including historic central bank shifts, have made most investors somewhat seasick. Recently on a day-to-day basis, markets seem to react quite irrationally, but the overall backdrop is fairly clear: the markets are getting accustomed to one of the most rapid and major shifts in Federal Reserve policy ever in its history.
An ability to look forward to better times and remain optimistic is invaluable. These attributes are no less helpful when investing in equities. Whilst you can get an unpleasant surprise from misjudging the direction of the tide while enjoying your picnic, the consequences for misjudging the direction of the liquidity waves look more pronounced than ever as we enter 2022.
As is often the case, markets are a better reflection of general sentiment than news headlines and so far, it points to an ongoing global recovery as equities hold their gains of 2021 and long-term bond yields rise. It may not be time yet to write off more difficult scenarios derived from the outbreak of Omicron, but facts so far do speak more positively than just one month ago.
On the back of uncertainties surrounding Omicron and major central banks turning hawkish, we deem it prudent to hold a slightly cautious stance on duration, as well as a slightly defensive stance on Asian currencies.
Taiwan and South Korea were buoyed by strong exports as sustained global demand for electronics supported hardware tech stocks amid widespread supply chain disruptions. The ASEAN region saw mixed returns. Thailand was the best performer as policymakers approved new stimulus measures to support domestic consumption, while the Philippines had to delay COVID-19 vaccinations on the back of Typhoon Rai.
We expect Japanese equities to rise significantly in 2022, supported by factors such as the government’s fiscal and coronavirus policies, the reshuffling of the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) and robust exports.
New Zealand faces the same kind of uncertainties other countries are confronting due to the global pandemic. But New Zealand, in some ways, has been in the vanguard of recovery from the COVID-19 outbreak.
Following the emergence of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant and with the World Health Organization declaring its concern, we hold a neutral view on duration in the near term and a slightly cautious stance on Asia currencies.
COP26 included a pledge by New Zealand and 100 other countries to achieve 30% cuts in methane emissions by 2030. Similar progress is being seen in the area of corporate disclosure as New Zealand is set to have its first climate-related disclosure standard by the end of next year.
The global outlook still looks positive, but less is known about the potential impact of the latest variant of the COVID-19 virus, Omicron—particularly in light of the fast government response to add restrictions on travel and, in some cases, local mobility.
We maintain a constructive view of risk assets but are cognizant that the path toward realising gains will be more delicate as we traverse the course of the Fed and other central banks removing their easy policies.
We believe that Asian economies are well positioned to navigate monetary tightening in the US. Government finances are healthier, as are corporate balance sheets. Most Asian economies are digitising faster than their western peers, while consumption is set to receive a meaningful boost from economic reopening.
According to our Global Investment Committee, which concentrates on the intermediate term-view regarding developed markets for pension funds and other long-term investors, 2022 looks to be a challenging, but positive year for risk assets. We believe that the G-3 central banks will become more hawkish, and such pivots can often cause potholes and at the very least headwinds, but we trust that policymakers can traverse their new course successfully overall.
For a nation that prides itself on punching above its weight in all we do, 2021 has seen New Zealand bobbing and weaving against the ropes somewhat, as we’ve fought the economic impact of an enduring COVID-19 pandemic. We may have been down in some places, but we’re certainly not out as we approach 2022.
The initial discovery of the Omicron variant was met with fairly sensational reporting by some of the world’s media and this fed through quickly into investor sentiment. It is probably true, however, that even if Omicron had not surfaced it was probably about time that investors were again reminded of the volatility that resides in markets, despite the mollifying impact of endless liquidity injections by central banks.
ESG initiatives are expected to become ever more important for companies and investors around the world in 2022. We expect many Japanese companies to come to the fore amid this global shift towards ESG, with enhancements in ESG disclosures shedding light on their value creation opportunities amid the current drive towards decarbonisation.
The Singapore economy is on a road to recovery. Although the economy has already rebounded sharply in 2021, we expect the recovery theme to remain intact and continue supporting the Singapore economy in 2022. We see a broadening of growth within Singapore’s key economic engines in 2022, with a sharper recovery expected in the services sector as the economy reopens.
Amid a flurry of headlines, investors may have largely overlooked the significant number of recent positive developments in China, such as initiatives directed towards ambitious renewables targets, the continued opening up of the financial sectors and support for a significant number of industries including AI and big data. We believe these areas could become the new leaders of China’s capital markets, representing investment themes for the next several decades.
The economic recovery in Asia ex-China is likely to improve significantly in 2022 as regulations are eased, borders are reopened and vaccination rates increase. We anticipate these developments to boost private sector confidence, providing an important tailwind for Asian ex-China growth in 2022.