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.
The divergence in growth outlook reflected in equities continues to widen, as secular growth in the form of tech and artificial intelligence (AI) developments appears to have the upper hand in determining the overall market direction. This is evident with the tech sector being up (and Japan, for different reasons) while most other sectors and geographies are down over the month. This defies conventional wisdom—that earnings can continue to grow into a recession, but these disruptive developments are indeed significant, and perhaps this is the right directional prognosis should a recession prove to be shallow.
We remain constructive on relatively higher-yielding Philippine, Indian and Indonesian government bonds, on the back of the relatively supportive macro backdrop for these countries. As for currencies, we expect the Thai baht and Indonesian rupiah to continue outperforming regional peers.
In an encouraging sign for New Zealand, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) signalled in May that the Official Cash Rate is likely to have peaked at its current level of 5.5%. The RBNZ appears to have shifted its focus from inflationary pressures to factors that will drive inflation down. Factors cited include weak global growth, easing inflationary pressures among New Zealand’s trading partners and reductions in supply chain constraints.
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s decision to have the Official Cash Rate (OCR) peak at 5.5% surprised the market, which had started to price in a peak of 5.75% or 6.0%. The lower-than-expected peak in the OCR is positive for equities as higher interest rates dampen spending by consumers and businesses.