Funds Society had the occasion to, from Santiago de Chile, interview Sean Taylor, Chief Investment Officer for Asia Pacific at DWS, and discuss with him his market view on the Asia Pacific region for 2018. Taylor, who joined DWS in 2013 with 21 years’ experience in the Industry, manages two flagship DWS products: DWS Investor Emerging market fund and DWS Top Asian fund. He is also responsible for the EM equity platform.
Positive view on global economy but need to be selective in sector and stocks
DWS outlook is positive on the global economy but recently they have observed an increase in uncertainty due to the US trade policy, Italy’s new government’s anti-EU rhetoric and select Emerging Market currency weaknesses. Taylor states that: “All three aspects require close monitoring. While an outcome is difficult to predict, our base case assumes no escalation of these issues and an eventual positive resolution triggering a sentiment relieve.”
Taylor also thinks that assets prices have already rallied and DWS is recommending their clients to be more selective in sectors and stocks: “Even under these positive scenarios, investors have to be more selective on duration and seek diversification.”
Same happens in the EM context, where Taylor recommends that: "it is not just buying EM, is being more selective particularly on the credit side and the sovereign side” and adds: “Current account deficit EM countries and those with high US debt levels are being impacted through their domestic currencies and/or foreign reserves, although rising US rates have been well flagged.” According to Taylor, if easing financial conditions tighten more sharply than expected, EM debt could become under pressure. DWS expects 2 further 25bps hikes by the Fed by the end of the year with the US 10yr yields of 3.25% by March 2019.
Regarding credit, they are expecting positive returns although not as high as in the recent years. They recommend a multicredit strategy to blend in some of that risk in.
On equities they are positive, US equities are expensive but still have upside: “it is really going to be based in earnings and earnings this year will be quite positive.” The rest of the international markets are looking cheaper, as they are not reflecting this economic growth.
Emerging markets: Expecting rewards after years of growth negative policies
When questioned about their preferences in terms of markets from a macro perspective, Taylor stated that beginning 2017 DWS was overweight in EM and continue to do so structurally: “There have been changes happening in those markets that we consider very positive. From a Macro perspective we see high potential in GDP growth versus previous years because we will start to see the positive impact of the new policies of new leaders in Asia. The new leaders in Asia came all about at the same time with a new mandate: to widen the economy. To achieve this they had to change the model: China had to stop corruption, India had to reduce burocracy and so did the Philippines and Indonesia. These changes implied being growth negative for the first 5 years but now they are able to collect the positive effect.
Also from a monetary point of view, Asia had a tight monetary policy and was dampening growth when the rest of the world had QE. Now as QE comes out we think Asia continues to be driven by its owns dynamic in economic terms. “
Taylor also thinks that EM and Asia are in a better position to adjust to changes in US and Chinese policy and adds, “Investing in EM has therefore been selective, avoiding those most vulnerable economies with deteriorating current account deficits and uncertain politics (Indonesia, Argentina, Philippines, Turkey, Malaysia) and under pressure to raise rates (Indonesia, Philippines) as well as those under potential trade/sanctions (Mexico, Russia) – however we have taken advantage of the rise in commodities, energy and oil prices where we have been sectorally overweight."
Latam higher earnings growth than EM area but significant political risk
Turning into the Latin American region, although it has been underweight in DWS portfolios for several years, they have started to increase their exposure recently. Even if political risk is on top of the table, DWS has a forecast of 25% estimated growth earnings versus 18% for the EM market area as a whole.
Going into more detail on the political risk, Taylor mentioned that the difficulty about the Brazilian election is the wide variety of candidates and possible scenarios. Therefore, there is a lot of event risk going forward. But to his view, Brazil is already factoring the worst case scenario:” From a fundamental point of view, Brazil went through 4 years of deep recession and although last year President Temer was beginning to put some reforms in there were also down because of the political situation. The Brazilian team is not factoring any positive news until the election. Brazil has the highest tax to GDP ratio of any large EM but has the lowest investment rate/GDP of 14% and the growth model relays on current account deficit. They need a strong president to implement the necessary reforms and leads Brazil to a cycle of economic growth. On the bottom up side they are expecting good earnings coming through.”
Commodities and Growing demand in China
DWS is expecting to see steady commodity prices going forward supported by growing demand in China. China’s growth for the following 5 years will be driven by : “the “One Belt one Road project” and growth in Chinese domestic economy. China is going to change from investment led growth to domestic lead growth so it will evolve into better consumption. In addition, the increase of the quality of life of the average Chinese will lead to the next phase of urbanization that will imply taking the next 100 million people from Central China to Western China into more urban areas. All these factors will enhance the demand for commodities”
Hong Kong versus Chinese domestic stocks
Taylor is an expert in Chinese and Hong Kong markets and as such he highlights the need to differentiate between forces driving Hong Kong markets and Chinese stocks. Taylor explains that; “the HK index, the Hang Seng, has relatively little to do with China as it is really based in domestic HK. Its sectors are: HK property, HK or international banks with HSBC and utilities and all those are quite interest rate sensitive so that puts as off. Utilities, we are underweight because the prices are capped by the government and if the funding costs increase their margins are going to be reduced and it is relatively expensive. The only area where we see some upside is consumer as consumption is picking up.”
He further states that on the other side, the China indexes traded in HK, the H Share index, which is effectively Chinese SOE (state owned enterprisers) listed in HK many years ago to improve Chinese corporate governance is 30% cheaper than the A share (Shanghai) index: "We have now a 25/28% arbitrage between H share and A share. The H share 3 years ago was 60% cheaper than the A share in China is now 30% cheaper”. This fact together with “Asian are buying Asian” and are demanding better balance sheet management, support his view that “ the earnings profile of what I call, MSCI China H Share, which does not include Hang Seng- domestics HK stocks- is much greater that the earnings of HK companies.”
In addition, as per recent announcements that could also boost Chinese equities, Taylor mentioned the Chinese Depository receipts. Although details are yet to come, the Chinese depository receipts will allow companies like the tech and the internet companies in the US to trade onshore in the Chinese market.
Chinese Bond Connect
Following on with his positive view on China, Taylor also comments on the Chinese Bond Connect project. It will allow foreign investors to be able to access the second largest bond market in the world:“ given our view in sovereign, where we are not seeing much yield globally, Chinese sovereign and corporate offer some good yields. That will mean that China will go into some of the big bond indexes and that will naturally put a one-of flow of bonds in there, but what it really means is that international investors can´t ignore China”
View on the generally accepted Chinese risks
The two biggest risk of China according to the majority of investors is that China´s got too much debt and too much leverage. To Taylor the two are different. The government debt to GDP, which is increasing every day, will be eased by foreign investors being able to access the Chinese bond market (Chinese Bond connect) as the government will be able to issue more, diversify and lower the risk premium of the Chinese economy . “Our view is that the debt problem is a balance sheet problem not a solvency problem and China owns effectively both sides of the balance sheet, so the only problem that can really put China into trouble is China itself.”
In his opinion, the biggest short term risk China is exposed to is the leverage in the financial system and particularly wealth management products. A lot of the smaller banks don’t have enough deposits, so they go to the overnight market and that causes spikes. Nonetheless, to Taylor the decision taken by the Chinese central bank has been very sensible: “what has happened in the last year is that PBOC has been very clever, it has kept policy rates very low, only raising 5 bps when the fed rose, but its kept 7 days rate quite tight, so it’s been squeezing liquidity out of the market, it´s been making the system safer. And that is also why we can assign a higher PE to China.”
EM Currencies outlook
For Taylor recent months have been complicated for emerging market currencies due to a stronger US dolar. That being said, most of the currencies are behaving as expected with current account surplus economies and better politics outperforming those with more difficult current accounts and uncertain politics. They consider Turkey and Argentina isolated incidents.
“In Asia, India has not done too well given the rise of commodities and oil prices, whilst Malaysia’s new government has caused some political uncertainty which is seen in the ringgit – however higher oil for Malaysia will help bolster their current account. For China the renminbi has strengthened since the beginning of the year while the Korean won has mostly been stable during the latest geopolitical tensions. Russia however has seen a depreciation in its currency post sanctions,” explains Taylor.
Strategies applied to the DWS Emerging and Asian funds
DWS Investor Emerging market and DWS Top Asian fund are both managed similarly combing country selection with stock selection. Their philosophy is one of a global perspective with local knowledge. They have localized teams all across the regions that provide a very good perspective of what is going on the ground: “3 years ago their strategy was defensive, which meant buying growth companies, buying quality. Now the strategy is more balanced. Last year they were really overweight in the technology areas, in South Korea and Taiwan while this year they are underweight because prices have already reflected the upside value. For 2018 they are focused more into consumer, financial, and cyclicals sectors. We have a very good risk adjusted return and very fundamentally driven, very disciplined process.”
As a final conclusion, Taylor states that their 2018 outlook for Asia and the emerging markets is positive: “We don’t see it being the same return as last year but we are confident for another 10% upside from here.” When asked about their expectations for 2019, he stated that next year earnings will be lower than 2018 but still positive at 14%. ”In 2019 we would expect to get full return as we would have gone through the rate cycle, would be a bit clearer on trade, hopefully more clear on sanctions and people would truly realize that our top down story of that growth continuing, plus the bottom up story of earning picking up structurally as well as cyclically, plus Asia buying Asia will give good support for the market.”