The asset management industry in Asia is set for a turbulent year in 2017, with the impending Donald Trump presidency in the U.S. and its impact on the global economy. For asset managers, the institutional space is becoming more interesting, with a growing trend of outsourcing by institutions.
After a very challenging 2016 in Asia's asset management industry, what does 2017 hold? That is the question that underpins this quarter's The Cerulli Edge - Asia-Pacific Edition which highlights key developments in 2016 in eight of the Asian markets they cover, namely, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. They also make some predictions on potential trends in each of those markets for 2017.
The impending Trump presidency and the geopolitical turbulence tipped to come with it will drive global macroeconomic factors in 2017. Although the repercussions remain to be seen after his inauguration in January, one thing that the Asian asset management industry will be closely watching is how his pledge to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States pans out. This issue will be particularly important to Asian countries as many of them count the United States as one of their top-five trading partners. If the trade faucet to the United States begins to shut, this will inevitably lead to some restructuring as these economies seek and find new exports markets or new export products.
From an asset management perspective, a widespread restructuring will have an impact on asset allocations in Asian markets. However, this will be a long-term process. Any short to medium-term pain felt by Asian retail and institutional investors in the face of such changes would be the price they have to pay for longer-term gains.
Cerulli has observed that retail investors in the region have notoriously shorter-term investment horizons than their Western counterparts. Asset retention is a constant struggle, but likely more apparent in North Asian markets including China. Another commonality is that investor sentiment for financial products, including mutual funds, tends to be driven by stock market sentiment. Consequently, we tend to see outflows from equity funds when stock markets are falling.
In the recent past in Asia ex-Japan, this has led to some funds being diverted to bond funds or balanced funds. However, with growing expectations that interest rates may head higher in 2017, led by rate hikes by the Federal Reserve, bond funds and balanced funds may not be viewed as safe havens for a while. In such market conditions, "we may see retail investors go back to their default positions, namely bank deposits. This would put the asset management industry back to square one in the region, after a lot of effort has been expended in recent years to mobilise people's savings toward riskier financial products".
Having said that, across Asia, regulators all stand firm on investor protection -that is ostensibly one of their highest priorities. Their basic stance is that riskier products should only be sold to accredited or wholesale or high-net-worth investors. Plain-vanilla mutual funds and exchange-traded funds are seen as more desirable for ordinary investors. Further, most Asian regulators share a keenness to develop their local mutual fund industries, and offer incentives to asset managers who show commitment to the domestic market. A prominent example is Taiwan's scorecard that incentivizes foreign asset managers to set up shop on the island.
Cerulli has also noticed asset managers' burgeoning interest in targeting institutional assets in the region. Institutional investors are increasingly searching for yield outside their comfort zones, and will typically outsource to asset managers with strategies that they do not have internal capabilities in, including foreign investment and alternative asset investment strategies. Cerulli predicts that outsourced assets will maintain an uptrend through to at least 2020, which will be good news for asset managers in the region.