The MSCI AC Asia ex Japan (AxJ) Index returned 2.7% in USD terms in December.
A broad-based synchronised recovery continues to gain traction. Following the strongest year of global growth since 2010 (estimated at 3%) the consensus forecast for the current year looks to be even rosier.
As widely expected, the US Federal Reserve (Fed) raised interest rates by 25bps in December, its third rate hike this year. It also raised its GDP forecast for 2018.
2017 was another strong year for emerging market (EM) fixed income, with markets reflecting a continued improvement in EM fundamentals, after an inflection point in early 2016. Overall in 2017, local debt was the best performing segment in EM (up 15% - JPM GBI EM GD), followed by external debt (up 10% - JPM EMBI GD) and corporate debt (up 8% - JPM CEMBI BD).
The Japanese equity market rose in December, with the TOPIX (w/dividends) climbing 1.57% on-month and the Nikkei 225 (w/dividends) rising 0.32%.
We see the key investment themes to drive performance in Global Credit in 2018 to be similar to last year. Using the output of our initial market assessment, we have developed our investment themes: Long US High Yield, Long Chinese Tier1 SOEs, Long European Hybrids, Long European Financials, Long Rising Stars.
For 2018 and beyond, we see a story of central bank policy normalization and foresee the global economy growing in a similar fashion to how it did in 2017: low growth coupled with comparatively low inflation data.
We expect the economic backdrop for Asian credits to remain constructive in 2018, but remain cognizant of several risks including rising interest rates, robust supply, unexpected weakness in China, geopolitical developments and cross-asset volatility.
The global recovery is expected to continue, albeit at a more moderate pace. Meanwhile, we see policy normalisation and an acceleration of inflation in Asia. Political action will move to South Asia in the wake of upcoming elections there.
Going forward, a robust global economy and well telegraphed withdrawal of monetary stimulus in advanced economies provides a good back-drop for export-oriented Asian economies.