Asian markets: Carrying some positive momentum into 2017

Is this the beginning of a long-awaited up cycle?

Asian markets: Carrying some positive momentum into 2017

Last November, the Invesco International and Global Growth team reported that in Asia ex-Japan, the building blocks were in place to shore up top-line growth. Our outlook for Earnings, Quality and Valuation (EQV) was cautiously positive. 2016 marked the first time in five years where earnings forecasts did not collapse at year-end, and an upward bias to earnings forecasts has continued into 2017. Is this the beginning of a new earnings growth cycle?

For years, slowing top-line growth in Asia, combined with an inability to raise prices, had driven consistently negative earnings revisions. So far, 2017 is proving to be different. Earnings forecasts are being revised upward from cyclically depressed levels, and the drivers behind the revisions are more fundamentally sound — see the reasons below:

  • After declining for most of 2015 and 2016, Asian exports have begun to rebound.1
  • Increased exports are driving increased operating leverage, which improves earnings quality.
  • The recent strengthening in commodity prices has provided an economic tailwind for some countries in the region.2
  • Improving margins and asset turnover, along with reduced financial leverage, are boosting return on assets (ROA) and return on equity (ROE).1

Some of the best fundamentals in years

Simply put, these are some of the best fundamentals the Asia ex-Japan region has experienced in six years. This sounds exciting, but it is too early to know whether this is a short-term uptick or the beginning of a long up cycle. What we do know is that the region is experiencing improving fundamentals, with earnings rising from a cyclical bottom and reasonable valuations. In contrast, the US market has gone through a prolonged period of economic expansion, expectations are steadily being reduced, and valuations are less compelling.

India: High expectations and high valuations

We get a lot of questions about why we don’t own anything in India. The rationale behind our decision is pretty simple. Indian companies sport high expectations and equally high valuations. India is one of the few markets in Asia where earnings forecasts have been downgraded over the past three months. On top of this, the market is trading at a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 18x — a 26% premium to Invesco Asia Pacific Growth Fund.3 It is easy to get excited about the country’s demographics and strong economic growth, but study after study show that high economic growth does not necessarily correlate with good stock performance. In our minds, Indian equities are a suboptimal opportunity.

Key takeaways

The low-growth environment that Asia experienced until recently resulted in investors seeking the highest growth and highest quality businesses, irrespective of price. The recent cyclical rally has helped close the valuation disparity between high-growth/high-quality companies and early-cycle/low-quality companies. Unfortunately, this has yet to create a target-rich environment for us, as high-growth and high-quality businesses are still two standard deviations above 20-year average valuations.4 But with earnings fundamentals improving, we are watching carefully for opportunities to emerge.

As always, we believe our long-term, bottom-up stock-picking approach — which focuses on companies’ EQV characteristics — can reward investors over the long term. The years 2008 through 2016 were known as a period of unprecedentedly high stock correlations. When stocks move in lockstep with the overall market, it tends to be a better environment for passive investment strategies. But since February 2016, stock correlations have collapsed.3 In our view, this helps make the case for active management, as lower correlations can create conditions that are more beneficial to skilled stock pickers.

1 Source: UBS

2 Source: Citi

3 Sources: MSCI India Index — MSCI, IBES, Credit Suisse as of 4/26/17

4 Source: BofA Merrill Lynch

Important information

Blog header image: amadeustx/Shutterstock.com

Return on assets (ROA) is a measure of profitability, calculated as net income as a percentage of total assets.

Return on equity (ROE) is a measure of profitability, calculated as net income as a percentage of shareholders’ equity.

Valuation is how the market measures the worth of a company or investment.

Price-to-earnings ratio, also called multiple, measures a stock’s valuation by dividing its share price by its earnings per share.

The performance of an investment concentrated in issuers of a certain region or country is expected to be closely tied to conditions within that region and to be more volatile than more geographically diversified investments.

The risks of investing in securities of foreign issuers, including emerging market issuers, can include fluctuations in foreign currencies, political and economic instability, and foreign taxation issues.

Growth stocks tend to be more sensitive to changes in their earnings and can be more volatile.

Stocks of small and mid-sized companies tend to be more vulnerable to adverse developments, may be more volatile, and may be illiquid or restricted as to resale.

Derivatives may be more volatile and less liquid than traditional investments and are subject to market, interest rate, credit, leverage, counterparty and management risks. An investment in a derivative could lose more than the cash amount invested.

The fund is subject to certain other risks. Please see the current prospectus for more information regarding the risks associated with an investment in the fund.

Brent Bates, CFA, CPA

Senior Portfolio Manager

Brent Bates is a Senior Portfolio Manager with the Invesco International and Global Growth team, focusing on large- and mid-cap equities in Asia Pacific and Latin America. Mr. Bates is a co-manager of the Invesco International Growth, Invesco Asia Pacific Growth and Invesco Developing Markets strategies.

Mr. Bates entered the investment management industry in 1996 as a mutual fund accountant with Invesco. Between 2002 and 2005, he served as an equities analyst with Invesco’s US Multi Cap Growth team, which he joined after serving as an analyst on the firm’s Quantitative Analysis team from 1998 to 2002. He joined the International and Global Growth team as an equities analyst in 2005, and was promoted to senior equities analyst in 2007 and portfolio manager in 2011. He assumed his current role in 2015.

Mr. Bates earned a BBA degree from Texas A&M University. He is a Certified Public Account (CPA) and a Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA) charterholder.

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