Future Returns: Finding Value in Asian Emerging Markets
Where to look in Asia’s emerging markets.
Where to look in Asia’s emerging markets.
Chinese regulators have been cracking down on the nation’s tech companies—sending stock prices reeling—but Frank Brochin, senior portfolio manager in the institutional advisory practice at the Colony Group in Boston, is confident the long-term growth story for China will continue to pay off for investors.
To Brochin, who manages money on behalf of endowments, foundations, and family offices, Chinese stocks will continue to strengthen from long-term growth factors fueling the economy, including the rise of the urban middle class, increasing domestic consumption, and the growth of the services economy.
The story is similar, if not even more attractive, in India and Southeast Asia, making “developing Asia” among the best places to invest in the world today for long-term investors, according to Brochin.
“Unlike other emerging markets, in Asia you have a secular economic and social transformation taking place,” he says. These factors “will give economic growth for the next couple of decades, while at the same time the markets are attractive.”
Penta recently spoke with Brochin about his views on investing in Asian markets, even as declining Asian tech shares contribute to driving emerging market indexes south. For the year through Aug. 23, the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets exchange-traded fund (ticker: EEM) is down 2.33% compared with a 17.4% gain in the iShares MSCI World ETF (URTH).
For institutional investors, Colony invests almost exclusively in active managers in emerging markets who have an on-the-ground presence and can select public and private companies poised to benefit from the dual trends of urbanization and rising domestic consumption.
Why China Remains a Good Bet
The performance of Chinese tech stocks such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA), Tencent Holdings Ltd. (700.Hong Kong), and ride-hailing company Didi Global (DIDI) began grabbing headlines in the fall of 2020 as they attracted increasing attention from the country’s regulators. In November, Ant Group’s anticipated US$3.4 billion initial public offering was suspended after executives of the Alibaba payments firm and Jack Ma, founder and controlling shareholder, met with Chinese regulators.
But Brochin says China’s heightened scrutiny is about catching up to regulations that Western countries, including the U.S., have had in place for years, and they are looking beyond tech to also include pharmaceutical companies, real estate, and other domestic industries.
China is a country emerging from a period of strong economic growth that “suddenly finds itself with Alibaba representing 20% of [the] gross market value of all retail sales in China,” he says. “In effect, they are truly just catching up and trying to align business practices with the long-term interests of the nation.”
In Brochin’s view the crackdowns are “not an assault on private entrepreneurs.” The Chinese Communist Party knows they need continued economic prosperity and economic growth to stay in power, and “they know the private sector provides that prosperity to the people of China,” he says.
India as a “Favourite Place” to Invest
The urbanization and increasing domestic consumption happening in China is also occurring in India, although the social and economic transformation of the country has a longer way to go, Brochin says.
Nearly half the population of India, for instance, is still employed in agriculture or agricultural-related jobs, he says, which points to the potential for growth as that percentage declines.
With only about US$2,000 of gross domestic product per capita in India, compared with closer to US$10,000 of GDP/capita in China, the country has a long runway for growth, Colony said in an earlier report.
India also has “a very young and growing population” versus China, which “has plateaued,” and it is “a more domestically focused economy and a Democracy,” Brochin says.
Also, household expansion in India’s urban areas is growing at about 4.4% a year—faster than its population growth of about 1.1%—because the trend is for multi-generations of families to no longer live under the same roof, according to Colony.
Another benefit: India applies “the rule of law” and its stock market is similar to the west, Brochin says.
“The growth drivers are the same as in China, but will take place over a much longer period of time,” he says, adding that India is the firm’s “favourite place in the world outside of the U.S. where we invest.”
The Benefit of Inefficiencies in Southeast Asia
Colony also favours selective investments in Southeast Asia, noting that the region—from Bangladesh to Indonesia—is home to about 850 million people, more than in the U.S. and Europe combined.
“You have a seriously critical mass of population and a critical mass of economic activity,” Brochin says.
And countries in the region, which include Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, and Cambodia, are affected by many of the same growth drivers as China and India as people move from rural areas to the cities. Many Southeast Asian countries, too, are at the very beginning of this growth trajectory, meaning their economies should continue expanding for a couple of decades.
One difference is that the markets are inefficient, volatile, and there is very little stock research—factors that can provide an opportunity for those who know where to look.
In a report, Colony points out that there are more than 4,400 companies trading publicly in Southeast Asia, while the percentage covered by analysts ranges only from 8% in Bangladesh to 42% in Thailand.
“If you use active managers, people who are on the ground who can find companies that few investors have paid attention to, you can do well in Southeast Asia,” Brochin says.
Reprinted by permission of Penta. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: August 24, 2021.
Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual
China’s economic recovery isn’t gaining the momentum money managers are awaiting.
Data from China Beige Book show that the economic green shoots glimpsed in August didn’t sprout further in September. Job growth and consumer spending faltered, while orders for exports came in at the lowest level since March, according to a monthly flash survey of more than 1,300 companies the independent research firm released Thursday evening.
Consumers’ initial revenge spending after Covid restrictions eased could be waning, the results indicate, with the biggest pullbacks in food and luxury items. While travel remains a bright spot ahead of the country’s Mid-Autumn Festival, hospitality firms and chain restaurants saw a sharp decline in sales, according to the survey.
And although policy makers have shown their willingness to stabilise the property market, the data showed another month of slower sales and lower prices in both the residential and commercial sectors.
Even more troubling are the continued problems at Evergrande Group, which has scuttled a plan to restructure itself, raising the risk of a liquidation that could further destabilise the property market and hit confidence about the economy. The embattled developer said it was notified that the company’s chairman Hui Ka Yan, who is under police watch, is suspected of committing criminal offences.
Nicole Kornitzer, who manages the $750 million Buffalo International Fund (ticker: BUIIX), worries about a “recession of expectations” as confidence continues to take a hit, discouraging people and businesses from spending. Kornitzer has only a fraction of the fund’s assets in China at the moment.
Before allocating more to China, Kornitzer said, she needs to see at least a couple quarters of improvement in spending, with consumption broadening beyond travel and dining out. Signs of stabilisation in the housing market would be encouraging as well, she said.
She isn’t alone in her concern about spending. Vivian Lin Thurston, manager for William Blair’s emerging markets and China strategies, said confidence among both consumers and small- and medium-enterprises is still suffering.
“Everyone is still out and about but they don’t buy as much or buy lower-priced goods so retail sales aren’t recovering as strongly and lower-income consumers are still under pressure because their employment and income aren’t back to pre-COVID levels,” said Thurston, who just returned from a visit to China.
“A lot of small- and medium- enterprises are struggling to stay afloat and are definitely taking a wait-and-see approach on whether they can expand. A lot went out of business during Covid and aren’t back yet. So far the stimulus measures have been anemic.”
Beijing needs to do more, especially to stabilise the property sector, Thurston said. The view on the ground is that more help could come in the fourth quarter—or once the Federal Reserve is done raising rates.
The fact that the Fed is raising rates while Beijing is cutting them is already putting pressure on the renminbi. If policy makers in China wait until the Fed is done, that would alleviate one source of pressure before their fiscal stimulus adds its own.