Saturday February 2, 2013
Diversify your wealth this year and pay attention to Asian equities
By CHERYL POO
THIS year, stagger your investments and make room for equities, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Limited (OCBC Bank) wealth management head of content and research Vasu Menon tells StarBizWeek.
He notes that Asia has had a good run in the property market, while equities have underperformed about 10 times less than the bond market.
Last month alone, global equity funds attracted some US$55bil, outdoing last year's altogether.
Menon's call for investors is to take advantage of the liquidity that's sitting in the financial system right now.
“Asian companies are paying out attractive dividends, an improvement from their past habit of hoarding cash. They have learned the ripple benefits of keeping their shareholders happy,” he says.
OCBC Bank had conducted a survey with 13 fund management companies, where more than half of that pool indicated equities as their preferred asset class.
The rest remained neutral.
“China's stock market is the most preferred with 62% making it their top choice among Asia ex-Japan equity markets,” Menon says.
Seeing as the US Federal Reserve and other central banks have injected a total of about US$7 trillion into the financial system over the last seven years, Menon sees how this should lend investors hope for a modest rebound in the next six to nine months.
“Ask yourself what your risk appetite is. I'd say, go aggressive this year, but that may not work for everyone,” he says.
For a better idea of what to expect, he paints a picture of the emerging Asia ex-Japan market: China's economy is picking up again, its spillovers flowing into Hong Kong; and Korean investors warming up to low market prices and key players like Samsung going global.
The South-East Asian market looks decent too, he says, with Thailand forging ahead with an economy growth of 4%.
Philippines did well last year, however, he reckons that it still an illiquid, immature market.
He observes the factors that have influenced the global economy in the past few years - liquidity, politics and sentiment.
“In terms of fundamentals, the stock market is in a Goldilocks' situation. Valuations, however, are doing fine. Most global equity markets are trading at 10 times price-earnings (P/E) ratio, so they are not expensive.
“Sentiment, on the other hand, is the main cause of recent years' market volatility. It's been affected by politicians' response to their financial crisis.
“But we can safely anticipate that they will put aside their differences at the last minute for the benefit of their national economy,” he adds in reference to the US and European elections last year.
Menon advises investors to inject 60% into equities, 5% to 10% into commodities, and pour the remainder into bonds. He reports that commodity sector fund managers are especially positive on gold due to the boosting of greater investment demands and low interest rates.
He expects the commodity's price to climb to US$1,850 (RM5,550) per ounce this year.There's been a change of perception towards gold, he says, where previously silver had been the preferred commodity to trade. Even so, it's an “extremely volatile commodity” and Menon urges investors to not over-invest.
“No more than 10%,” he emphasises.
Bonds above five years are off limits for now. “We don't know if the Federal Reserve will carry out quantitative easing, sell the long end and increase interest rates. So, watch out for signals.”
Menon is of the belief that a temperate economy is all the comfort that people need right now.
“This is a very fractured world.
“The economy won't be back to its previous state for the next 5 to 10 years.
“The US problems are here to stay. The European crisis is so complex that it will take a very long time to recover,” Menon says. “The world has changed and people have just come to realise it in the last two years.”
But the light in all of this is that politicians have shown their willingness to cast aside their differences and come to grips with a common platform for economic growth, if only at the eleventh hour.
“We saw the European and US leaders do this,” Menon says. “They will put aside their political differences and come through to do what's best. That has helped market sentiment.”
Menon cautions investors to anticipate events such as during the Spanish and Cyprus elections, the US debt ceiling, or even another round of tension in Israel and Iran.
These events cause the markets to slow down, which leads investors to pull back. “This gives the rest of the market a good chance to buy. Others will get to cash out their profits,” he says.
In terms of global recovery, Menon points out that China has come through. “We are looking at a growth of 7.9% from 8.1%,” he says. “I'm not so confident about the sterling, however. The problem with the nation is that it has become less competitive over time.”
Corporate losses, in general, have been manageable.
“As long as companies are about to turn the corner. Slow growth rates are good enough for now,” he says. The inherent risks come into play when policy makers start taking their feet off the accelerator.
These two years will see governments try to get their economies to its feet but once they're up, businesses may suffer disturbances from the quantitative easing.
“It's the huge central banks' balance sheets that need resolution,” he says. “I'm concerned as to how they will do it.”
Menon states that in the last few years, investors have retreated to defensive sectors for the safety of it.
“Naturally, you will see more money gravitating to the more cyclical sectors like banking, consumer-related industries, automobile and infrastructure. We're seeing many governments spending on those areas to stimulate the economy,” he says. “The best strategy is to apply a sum and diversify it over time so that you will balance out your wins and losses. I don't foresee a freefall. When the markets do pull back, use it as an opportunity.”