Over 30 professional investors attended Aberdeen Asset Management’s presentation on Asian Equities in Miami last month. Adrian Lim, CFA and senior investment manager for the management company, shared his views on the effect of US rates and the evolution of the US dollar over Asian equity assets, as well as the impact of falling oil prices and the effectiveness of reforms. During the event, the management company submitted its equity strategies for the Asia Pacific region and Japan. Following the presentation, attendees enjoyed a cocktail on the terrace of one of the most emblematic buildings in Downtown Miami, the heart of its financial center.
China vs Hong Kong
Aberdeen AM is known as a stock picking management company. Therefore, Lim maintains that “quality is the first thing we look for when selecting an asset." One example that epitomizes this philosophy is that Aberdeen’s Asia Pacific strategy portfolio has a debt to equity ratio that is half of that recorded by its benchmark. As well as focusing on asset quality, Aberdeen looks for companies with attractive valuations to create concentrated portfolios (the Asia Pacific strategy portfolio currently has about 55 assets), in which stability is the main priority. "Of the Top 10 holdings on our portfolio, six have been in the portfolio for over 10 years," Lim points out.
In this strategy, which does not include Japan, Aberdeen now has an overall weight in China and Hong Kong similar to its benchmark. Separately, however, exposure to Hong Kong is higher than the index, while exposure to continental China is lower. Lim again stressed the importance of quality when selecting stocks: "Chinese companies are generally of lower quality, Chinese rule of law is less strict, and there has been cheap access to capital in China for many years, and therefore companies have not had to focus too much on getting a good return on their business; they have become very large, but really not too profitable.”
Citing a Korean cellular phone manufacturer as an example, with very strong exposure in the cell phone market in China, Lim also adds that "it is not necessary to invest in shares listed in China to access Chinese domestic consumption."
A Look at the Japanese Market
When talking about Japan, Lim says that "talking to an investor who has spent 20 years investing in Japan, and who, fed up with not profiting from their investment, most likely left the market at the beginning of this last rally, is not the same as talking to someone who has been investing in Japan only during the last three years, and who, therefore, has had a much better experience.”
Can we believe that it will be different this time? According to Lim, Shinzo Abe has been in power longer than most recent governments. "His commitment to introduce inflation in the economy is tremendous, and even if its not very popular with the Japanese population, he has managed to get reelected and to push a number of reforms, although he still has a long way to go.” In any case, as pointed out by the Senior Investment Manager, "it is becoming important to reconsider the fact of not having any exposure to Japanese equities."
Even though the environment in Japan is currently more positive, we mustn’t forget that we are talking about an economy whose growth remains weak, and so "we choose exporter stocks such large tobacco or automotive manufacturers, whose behavior does not depend on domestic consumption, or companies selling components and materials to Japanese companies whose final market is an exporter, so that ultimately the demand comes from outside," says Lim.
In terms of valuation, Lim points out that we have to take into consideration that we are talking about a developed market with high multiples, although not as high as those in Europe or the US.
India, an Emerging Market in its Purest Form
When talking about India, Lim explains that it is the purest example of an emerging market in the region. "It's a challenging market, but at the same time, very subjective, with much 'noise' for the investor," he says. According to Lim, the Modi government has been the best for the country in recent years, but you cannot ignore the fact that the Indian economy is slowing down, “and Modi cannot do much to prevent it; we cannot expect Modi to work an economic miracle for the whole of India such as the one he orchestrated in the state of Gujarat, of which he was governor before being elected as Prime Minister.” In such a market, it is particularly important to be a good stock picker: "If in Japan we are more inclined towards exporting assets, stock selection in India is purely directed towards the domestic consumer market," says Lim.