The current rise in Japanese equities could have legs, setting it apart from other phases in the previous 30 years which often led to disappointment. Japan’s shift from cyclical to secular growth, highlighted by labour shortages fuelling a rise in wages, is a development that is setting the equity market on a fundamentally different trajectory. We expect wage developments, as a factor affecting both consumption and inflation trends, to help determine further gains for Japan equities.
The markets are pricing “higher for longer” with US Treasury 10-year yields pressing above their October 2022 highs, tempering enthusiasm across global equities into neutral sentiment territory. As inflation pressures continue to ease without tipping the jobs market into recession, the US Federal Reserve still looks on course to achieve a soft landing. However, not surprisingly the markets remain slightly on edge as the top in yields cannot yet be called for certain.
Indian and Indonesian bonds are expected to fare relatively better than their regional peers, supported by their attractive carry, positive macro backdrop and policy credibility. As for currencies, expectations that US interest rates may have reached their peak could weigh on US dollar sentiment and favour Asian currencies in return.
While regional markets understandably retained its focus on the economic weakness in China, we believe that the fear gripping the markets belies the region’s long-term sustainable return and positive change opportunities. The challenges that China must overcome are not insurmountable and certainly do not translate to systematic or social instability risk, in our view.
There’s more to Japan’s renaissance than relatively inexpensive valuations. Companies have become more receptive to corporate reform and shareholder engagement; Japan’s services sector is benefitting from a resumption in tourism; and, in Japan, inflation is settling at supportive levels after years of deflation.
Structural reforms, investments in energy transition, rising consumption and vast improvement in India’s infrastructure, productivity and manufacturing sector are expected to bolster the country’s next phase of economic growth and development.
The climate change crisis we are witnessing presents both challenges and opportunities. Focusing on the latter from an investment perspective, in our view asset managers are in a position to help facilitate society’s goals of reducing GHG emissions and decarbonising.energy
This month we take a closer look at Japan’s 2Q GDP surge and analyse the factors that could offset a potential slowdown in exports; we also assess why the markets are less perturbed by a weak yen compared to a year ago and discuss the prospects of the currency strengthening in the months ahead.
The just-released 2Q CY23 data on aggregate corporate profits in Japan was somewhat mixed, but the overall corporate recurring pre-tax profit margin rebounded near its record high on a four-quarter average.
The economic wheels continue to turn forward, surprising many given that the Federal Reserve lifted the overnight target rate to 5.5%, a level not seen since 2001. It is also above the top rate of 5.25% seen back in 2006–2007, before rate cuts ultimately failed to prevent the Global Financial Crisis. This time around, balance sheets are much stronger in the private sector and so are regulations. And now, the combined fiscal impulse and investment wave may keep pushing recession risk further away.
Recent data demonstrate that declining demand is now a major concern for companies as recent rate hikes by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand increasingly constrain economic activity.
The devastation from the tropical cyclone and flooding that struck New Zealand’s North Island in February 2023 was a reminder of the increasing need to mitigate extreme weather events and to take stock after they strike.
We retain our preference for Indonesian government bonds and for currencies, we believe that greater support for the renminbi from Chinese policymakers should remove a near-term headwind for currencies in the region. We take a more cautious view towards risk in the near-term due to a slightly weaker macro backdrop and uncertainties ahead which make the valuation of Asia investment grade credit look slightly stretched versus both historical levels as well as developed market spreads.
With the Chinese economy on the brink of deflation, the timing of the Chinese government’s recent pro-growth directives was a very welcome signal. If carried out, they can lead to structural changes that can potentially lead to an improvement in consumer confidence and growth in the Chinese economy, in our view.
Although the Bank of Japan tweaked its policy in July, we discuss why the move may have been a compromise given expectations the central bank will wait for more concrete signs of inflation before taking a more significant step; we also describe why the rise by Japanese equities could have “legs” this time.
Nikko AM’s Head Portfolio Manager – Core Markets, Steven Williams, recently participated in Asset TV’s Masterclass on the threats and opportunities for investors in the climate transition. Here are the highlights of Steven’s contribution to the discussion.
While market positioning has shifted towards a more constructive outlook, the macroeconomic mood has not. Rather, persistent upside pressures in equity markets have forced investors back into the market so they do not fall too far behind benchmarks and their peers.
We remain constructive on relatively higher-yielding government bonds amid a supportive macro backdrop. Our favourable view of higher-yielders is further grounded on the view that lower-yielding government bonds will be more vulnerable to volatility in UST bonds.
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand indicated in May that the current interest rate hiking cycle is by and large complete, with the Official Cash Rate (OCR) having peaked at its current level of 5.5%. The central bank also signalled that it is unlikely to cut the OCR in the near future, stating its intention to keep interest rates at a restrictive level for some time in order to keep inflation under control. In addition, New Zealand has a general election scheduled for 14 October 2023, further reducing the likelihood of near-term moves in the OCR.
With inflationary issues subsiding across most of Asia, many regional central banks are now holding interest rates steady, if not cutting rates in the case of China. The US, meanwhile, is still warning of further rate hikes despite some overall softening in data. Of more concern to us is what China does next.
A stable political backdrop is just one of several key considerations supportive of investors increasing their exposure to Japanese equities, in our view. We believe that reforms to both its corporate governance structure and the configuration of its stock market have made Japan a more attractive investment destination for global investors. The removal of COVID-19 inbound travel restrictions is expected to provide Japan with an additional economic boost, with tourism further benefitting from the yen’s relative weakness.
As a virtuous inflation cycle helps boost stocks, this month we focus on how labour shortages could nudge Japan away from a deflationary mindset; we also assess the BOJ under a new governor, who has said that monetary policy surprises could be unavoidable.
Japan’s corporate governance reform started nearly a decade ago is an ongoing process, but it received a boost from the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s latest initiative in January. The latest chapter in corporate governance reform coupled with Japan’s break from a deflationary mindset and the full re-opening of the economy after the pandemic are expected to create a more favourable investment environment for Japanese equities.
We expect occasionally quite volatile, but positive trends for the global economy, financial system and markets in each of the next four quarters. Regionally, we prefer the European market for the next two quarters, and also include Japan’s on a 9–12-month view.
As the green bond market diversifies, sustainability-linked bonds (SLBs), which are linked to an issuer’s broader sustainability performance, have garnered significant investor attention and scrutiny. We believe structural improvements will help make SLBs a more attractive sustainable investment class within the ESG universe.