In a survey conducted by the Nikkei in March 2017, 80% of respondent companies indicated that they were either planning or considering the implementation of productivity enhancing investments. Furthermore, more than 70% of respondent companies indicated that they would invest in productivity enhancing technology to address excessively long employee working hours.
US Treasury (UST) yields were range-bound for the most part of June, before surging in the last few days of the month. The US Federal Reserve (Fed) raised interest rates by 25 basis points (bps), despite soft inflation data. Overall, 10-year UST yields ended the month at 2.30%, about 10 bps higher compared to the previous month.
The MSCI Asia ex Japan (AxJ) Index rose by 1.6% in US dollar (USD) terms. Year-to-date (YTD), the index returned 22.8%, outperforming MSCI World by over 12%.
In the Japanese equities market, high dividend strategies have significantly outperformed other strategies. We believe that – in a low growth, low interest rate environment where investors yearn for yield – these strategies will continue to outperform.
Following four years of intense consultation and three failed attempts, MSCI has just added China A-Shares into its international indices. We view this as expected and in some ways, long overdue. Although the initial size of the inclusion is symbolic in nature, the implications are far reaching.
MSCI Asia ex Japan (AxJ) gained 4.7% in USD terms, outperforming the MSCI AC World and MSCI Emerging Markets Indices. The results of the French presidential elections buoyed sentiment and outweighed patchy economic growth data.
Better-than-expected US non-farm payroll figures and a more favourable FOMC statement were offset by political uncertainties in Washington. FBI director James Comey's firing and investigations into possible ties between Trump's election campaign and Russia increased concerns of a set-back in the president's economic agenda. 10-year UST yields ended the month at 2.20%, about 8 basis points (bps) lower compared to end-April levels.
The European Central Bank (ECB) has taken its first step towards reducing its stimulus programme by omitting the mention of "lower levels" for interest rates in its forward guidance, even as ECB President Mario Draghi denied that there was any discussion of tapering in the latest policy session.
Asia Credit is significant enough as an asset class to be considered separately, and its high grade segment could be a relative safe haven if EMD flows reverse.
We believe inflation will pick up gradually in the second half of 2017, in which case the rational expectations of Japanese consumers are likely to shift towards anticipation of even higher inflation. Higher inflation expectations are precisely what BOJ Governor Kuroda has been seeking to achieve. Therefore such a development would be positive for the Japanese equity market.
On 19 May 2017, S&P upgraded Indonesia’ sovereign rating to BBB- with a stable outlook from BB+ with a positive outlook. In the longer term, the market is expecting that this rating upgrade will result in inflows of as much as USD 5bn into the bond market, particularly from Japanese investors who require a full investment grade rating from the three rating agencies.
MSCI Asia ex Japan (AxJ) was up another 2.2% in USD terms, outperforming the MSCI AC World. All AxJ markets ended higher in April. Robust economic data from China offset concerns over President's Trump's ability to pass through sweeping corporate tax cuts in the US.
10-year US Treasury (UST) yields ended the month at 2.28%, about 11 basis points (bps) lower compared to end-March levels. Mixed economic data and rising geopolitical tensions drove sentiment over the month. Towards the month-end, market sentiment improved after pro-euro French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron secured the most number of votes in the first round of elections.
MSCI Asia ex Japan (AxJ) was up 3.3% in USD terms, outperforming MSCI AC World. All Asian markets rose over the month, with gains led by India and Korea. The Indian Rupee was also the best-performing currency in March. The US Federal Reserve raised interest rates by 25 basis points (bps), as widely expected.
US Treasury (UST) yields rose in the first half of the month buoyed by hawkish comments from the Federal Reserve (Fed), a solid US jobs report and possible scale back of quantitative easing (QE) by the European Central Bank (ECB). While the Fed raised short-term interest rates, as expected, the absence of a more hawkish tone from the central bank triggered a drop in UST yields.
The Trump reflation trade may have lost some of its shine during the quarter, but any disappointment was more than overshadowed by strong global data as exports and production continued to gather pace. In fact, fading enthusiasm for Trump’s ability to execute has arguably served as a tailwind for Emerging Market (EM) assets in the form of a weaker dollar and moderating long term rates.
MSCI Asia ex Japan (AxJ) was up 3.4% in USD terms, marginally outperforming MSCI AC World. Absolute returns were positive for all AxJ markets except the Philippines. The Taiwan Dollar (TWD) was the best performing currency in AxJ followed by the Korean Won and Indian Rupee. Buoyed by the partial unwind of the post-election Trump-trade, gold was the best performing commodity.
US Treasury (UST) yields traded in a tight range in February. Risk assets rallied and UST yields rose in the first half of the month, on the back of the prospect of tax cuts and a Dodd-Frank overhaul in the US. Subsequently, yields were pressured lower by concerns about a possible victory by Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential elections. Overall, the 2-year and 10-year points on the UST curve ended the month about 6 basis points (bps) higher and 6bps lower respectively.
With President Trump announcing that he will be releasing his tax plans in the coming weeks, we have shifted to a more cautious position on US duration. The risk is that President Trump announces a sizeable stimulus package, with the backing of the broad Republican base. This would raise fears that the US Federal Reserve would need to act more quickly than expected, and with markets only pricing in two or three rate hikes in 2017, we believe that markets are under-pricing the risks of this announcement.
Asia ex-Japan (AxJ) equities returned 6.2% in US Dollar (USD) terms, outperforming MSCI World. Singapore, Hong Kong and Chinese equities outperformed while Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand lagged. Asian currencies generally strengthened against the USD over the month.