This month we discuss why the equity market is relatively unaffected by the political scandal shaking Japan’s ruling party; we also assess how 2024 could become an inflection point in the country’s “savings to investments” drive.
Although we believe that the prospects for the economy remain mostly unchanged, the outlook is softer at the margins, perhaps reflecting the tightening of financial conditions seen during the recent months. Over the past month, however, financial conditions have eased considerably on the assumption of impending rate cuts.
Given the volume of quality defensive companies with relatively high dividend yields, higher for longer interest rates are a significant headwind for New Zealand’s equity markets. Alongside these, the country’s globally-focused export companies will be looking for the global growth story to play out positively, but for the meantime will at least be enjoying a relatively weak New Zealand dollar.
Japan may not be known for quick, sweeping reforms. However, developments in the country’s corporate governance over the last 10 years suggest that once changes are set in motion, they can have a deep and lasting impact, raising the value of its companies and creating investment opportunities along the way.
We expect poor 1Q24 returns for MSCI World after the 4Q23 surge, but a more positive trend for the rest of 2024. Regionally, we much prefer Japan in the year ahead. Our view on global bonds for USD-based investors is that they are preferred during much of the 1H, but only marginally attractive in the 2H.
We expect sentiment toward Asia’s bond markets to turn increasingly positive in 2024. We also expect macro and corporate credit fundamentals across Asia ex-China to stay resilient on the back of fiscal buffers, although slower economic growth appears to loom over the horizon.
Despite short-term negatives, we believe that China continues to offer ample long-term growth opportunities as the country pivots towards advanced manufacturing and technology. Elsewhere, some of the best growth stories globally could be found in India and Indonesia, while Taiwan and South Korea are expected to continue benefitting from a modest upcycle as the semiconductor industry recovers.
We discuss how a bullish year for Japan equities has brought what was previously out of sight into view and analyse focal points for the market as we head into 2024; we also assess how focusing on efficiency and growth could be the way forward for Japan given its projected drop in the GDP rankings.
Our investment themes for 2024 focus on key features of a world in transition. They include higher-for-longer rates, production shortages in natural resources and the search for new sources of productivity. Transitions are never easy, and features of the old world accustomed to low rates may not make it. We believe that some of these old-world features could pose systemic risks as “creative destruction” does not always run smoothly.
We are heading into a changing world, where the more recent past can no longer be relied on to guide our path forward. But we are not blindfolded. There are tools we can use to provide a greater degree of certainty. Our Future Quality approach is designed to help us identify franchises that are set to endure.
We present our 2024 outlook for sustainable fixed income, core markets and credit markets.
We expect 2024 to be a year of domestic consolidation and long-term reform measures, where markets are driven more by Japan-specific events than by global factors. After decades of deflation, we see Japan as finally breaking out of this cycle in 2024, as it enters a virtuous cycle of price increases and wage hikes.
We believe ASEAN will offer good pockets of growth and quality opportunities, as well as earnings resilience and protection amid some of the prevailing global macro headwinds.
We believe that our “New Singapore” narrative focusing on sectors and companies that represent the future of the city-state will remain relevant in 2024. Energy transition has risen to prominence within the New Singapore narrative in addition to data, technology, healthcare, logistics, tourism and food solutions.
Considering that major tech companies are profitable, cash rich and cannot afford to lose out in the highly competitive AI race, spending on high-end computing and neural networks looks set to continue in 2024. This will likely create a lasting boon to many component suppliers (the so-called picks and shovels of AI) across Asia.
Much like this report in 2023, global conditions will remain unique and defy a confident overall summary; thus, here are ten predictions on some particularly noteworthy factors.
We expect 2024 to be a year of higher returns and lower volatility for Asian local government bonds as US Treasury yields are seen stabilising. We also see Asian currencies firming against the dollar in 2024 as the Federal Reserve’s rate hike cycle comes to an end.
We expect fundamentals and technical backdrop for Asian credit to remain supportive in 2024. However, valuation is a challenge with current Asian high-grade spreads near historical lows. The myriad cyclical and structural factors driving the major sub-sectors within Asian high-yield credit makes it is difficult to call the overall spread direction in 2024, although the current spread level remains wide and offers room for compression over the medium term.
For those willing to brave immediate challenges, we believe China will continue to offer long-term opportunities as the country has been working to become technologically self-sufficient and develop high-end technologies on its own in a more challenging regulatory environment.
The just-released 3Q CY23 data on Japan’s aggregate corporate profits was a bit mixed, but the overall corporate recurring pre-tax profit margin surged to a record high on a four-quarter average. The non-financial service sector rose to another record high, but the manufacturing sector fell further from its record high.
We have held on to our view that the “higher for longer” narrative is not necessarily bad for equities, as robust earnings are supported by a US economy that continues to grow at above-trend rates. However, we are also sympathetic to the de-rating process where earnings look simply less attractive compared to higher rates across the yield curve.
We expect macro and corporate credit fundamentals across Asia ex-China to stay resilient with fiscal buffers, although slower economic growth appears to loom over the horizon.
The last few quarters have been a good reminder that we are in a changing world. As a result, we need to focus always on investing in enduring franchises and we would suggest that our Future Quality approach is soundly placed in that regard. We also need to approach monetary policy with an open mind—sometime soon the central banks could change the game again. In surfing parlance, be ready with your trusted board and make the most of the conditions.
Recently many fixed income investors have experienced steep price declines in their bond portfolios. We have argued that it is not only duration that explains the interest risk of a portfolio, but that convexity needs to be accounted for as well. In this paper we point out that credit risk measures also have to be adjusted in an environment of declining bond prices.
We analyse the Bank of Japan’s decision to further tweak its yield curve control scheme amid the latest developments hinting at sustained wage growth; we also assess why an acute labour shortage could be a golden opportunity for Japan Inc. to change structurally.