Mid-Year Market Outlook: Asia presents opportunities amid thickened fog of uncertainty

SEHK: 945
For Immediate Release

Kuala Lumpur – Uncertainty is set to continue to shape the second half of 2019, while developments across different themes will intertwine and influence each other. Amidst the fog, however, Manulife Investment Management believes Asian assets could offer opportunities given their resilience to market volatility in the first half of 2019. Asian equities have held up strongly despite the negative impact of escalating Sino-US trade tensions, and the Federal Reserve’s increasingly dovish stance has allowed Asian bonds to remain in a good position.

“Central banks have entered a global easing cycle in response to the deteriorating global growth activity and heightened uncertainty surrounding international trade policy. This uncertainty has created a confidence shock that is slowing global hiring and business investment along with global trade,” said Frances Donald, Chief Economist and Head of Macroeconomic Strategy, Manulife Investment Management.

“We expect the Federal Reserve will cut rates at least twice in 2019 as insurance against deteriorating growth in the face of heightened uncertainty but also to stoke inflationary pressures which have been absent. Should trade tensions re-escalate in the second half of the year, we would expect the Federal Reserve to respond with more than two rate cut,” Donald added.

Asian equities: Capturing new economic opportunities in the region

The resilience of Asian markets amidst persistent macro volatility is significant. The Fed’s dovish stance has effectively put a floor in the market; capital inflows to Asian markets were net positive for most of the first half[1]. Whilst headline numbers are noteworthy, the underlying catalysts of reform and change in the region are also worthy of investors’ attention.

Even if the US and China ultimately reach a trade agreement in 2019, investors should realise that the tensions underlying the current dispute are structural and long-term in nature. The growth prospects of some Chinese tech companies may inevitably be hurt in the short term due to cut offs by US suppliers, and advanced technology suppliers in Korea and Taiwan may be key beneficiaries, as they are able to supply both US and Chinese firms over the short-term. For example, semiconductor foundries and small design houses in Taiwan can benefit as China readjusts its supply chains.

 “In Malaysia, the economic outlook is looking to be better as the strengthening relationship with China is expected to pave way for rising investment flows from China to Malaysia. The revival of major infrastructure projects is expected to pump-prime the economy for the second half of the year”, said Tock Chin Hui, Head of Total Solutions and Equities Investments of Manulife Asset Management Services Bhd.

“Malaysia corporates and consumers are expected to spend more due to the progressive disbursements of tax refunds and the resumption of infrastructure projects, which will eventually drive domestic consumption, and investor sentiment is expected to improve as the government continues to embark on structural changes to overhaul the economy and future-proof it. Looking ahead, Malaysian equities offer attractive dividend yield and significant defensiveness amid uncertainty caused by trade tension. The Malaysian market is expected to show resilience and could outperform regional peers given its defensive trait and year-to-date laggard performance,” Tock added.

Asian fixed income: Spotting opportunity in volatility

The Fed’s monetary policy direction and moderate inflation conditions in Asia provide policy room for the region’s central banks. The prospect of Fed rate cuts is already priced into markets, leading to developed market bond yields overshooting on the downside.

Together, these global circumstances can provide opportunities for Asian bond markets. Asian economies that raised interest rates in 2018[2] now have enough dry powder to adopt accommodative monetary policies, a favourable environment for local-currency bonds. Furthermore, the widened interest-rate differential between Asian and developed bond markets increases the appeal of Asian bonds, especially high-yielding bond markets.

Against the backdrop of slowing global trades and on-going US-China tensions, the global GDP is expected to trend lower.  With Bank Negara cutting Malaysia's Overnight Policy Rate by 25bps in May 2019, Malaysia joined other central banks globally on their dovish stance. This provides impetus for our bullish outlook on the global and local bond market, ” said Andy Luk, Head of Fixed Income of Manulife Asset Management Services Bhd.

“With strong domestic liquidity and lower net supply in the second half of 2019, we see signs of healthy demand-supply dynamics in the Malaysian market. Credits were well supported in the first half of 2019 and is expected to continue delivering strong performance in the coming months.” Luk concluded.

About Manulife Asset Management Services Berhad

Manulife Asset Management Services Berhad (“MAMSB”) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Manulife Holdings Berhad (listed on Bursa Malaysia), which is majority owned by Canada-based Manulife Financial Corporation. MAMSB offers a comprehensive range of 50 unit trust and PRS funds in the asset classes of equity, fixed income and money market. Since 2010, MAMSB has bagged 41 awards in total; with the four most significant house awards being won in 2017 & 2018, namely the Best Overall Award Malaysia Provident for EPF-Approved Funds by The Edge | Thomson Reuters Lipper Fund Awards 2017, the Most Outstanding Islamic Asset Management Company by KLIFF Islamic Finance Awards 2017, Top Investment House Malaysia - Rank 5 in Asian Local Currency Bonds by The Asset Benchmark Research Awards 2017 and the Best Group Over 3 Years - Mixed Assets by Thomson Reuters Lipper Global Islamic Fund Award 2018. Visit us online at manulifeinvestment.com.my


About Manulife Investment Management

Manulife Investment Management is the global wealth and asset management segment of Manulife Financial Corporation. We draw on more than 150 years of financial stewardship to partner with clients across our institutional, retail, and retirement businesses globally. Our specialist approach to money management includes the highly differentiated strategies of our fixed-income, specialized equity, multi-asset solutions, and private markets teams—along with access to specialized, unaffiliated asset managers from around the world through our multimanager model1,2. Our personalized, data-driven approach to retirement is focused on delivering financial wellness in retirement plans of all sizes to help plan participants and members retire with dignity.

Headquartered in Toronto, we operate as Manulife Investment Management throughout the world, with the exception of the United States, where the retail and retirement businesses operate as John Hancock Investment Management and John Hancock, respectively; and in Asia and Canada, where the retirement business operates as Manulife. Manulife Investment Management had $837 billion in assets under management and administration as of March 31, 20193. Not all offerings available in all jurisdictions. For additional information, please visit our website at manulifeinvestmentmgt.com.


1. Public Markets strategies managed by Manulife Investment Management, formerly known as Manulife Asset Management and John Hancock Asset Management. Manulife Investment Management’s Private Markets platform offers long term solutions across private equity and private credit, real estate equity and debt, infrastructure equity, timberland and farmland.

2. John Hancock Investment Management’s multimanager approach oversees a global network of over 30 unaffiliated asset management firms, managing more than 100 investment strategies, in addition to our affiliated asset managers.

3. Source: MFC financials. Global Wealth and Asset Management AUMA at March 31, 2019 was $837 billion and includes $189 billion of assets managed on behalf of other segments and $134 billion of assets under administration.



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Shanice Lim          

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Email: Shanice.lim@hkstrategies.com  

[1] Source: JP Morgan, June 2019

[2] Those markets include India, Indonesia, Korea and the Philippines.