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Why invest in Asia in an age of confrontation?

Robert Horrocks, PhD

Chief Investment Officer Matthews Asia

I've been grappling with the recent political changes in the U.S. and wondering whether they demand a radical rethink of investment strategy.

I have come to the conclusion that the answer is no. The current climate feels like one of confrontation—and why invest in Asia in this age of confrontation? It's easy to get sucked into the political climate and forget the fundamental facts of economic growth. So, although political parties in Europe, the U.K. and the U.S. seem particularly polarized—with nationalism, anti-immigration, protectionism and mercantilism still dominant themes in attracting votes—there are some things that these trends can't change, such as Asia's savings, productivity and growth.

Late last year, my colleague Andy Rothman and I addressed some of these issues as they affect Asia, and particularly China, during a U.S. roadshow as well as via webcast. I expect that much of the coming weeks and months may involve communicating our views on long-term investing in Asia in the face of sensational headlines and, at times, bleak sentiment, driven by changes of course in U.S. policy.

But beyond what we may personally feel about politics, what are the effects on economies as some of the world's largest economies turn inwards? How should we think about this? There are obviously lots of currents and sub-currents we could discuss and plenty of opportunity for volatility in the coming weeks and months. But I want to focus on three aspects. Hopefully, these will bring to light the opportunities inherent in Asian investing in the face of any market sell-downs.

First, we really must stop thinking of Asia as being driven by exports, or by the economy of the U.S. Asia is far too large to truly be driven by anything other than its internal dynamics. Exports are not insignificant, but they are a secondary concern. I believe that growth depends on the desire and ability of people to work hard, learn and better their standards of living. This desire remains unchecked in Asia. Opportunities, too, regardless of any trade issues, remain plentiful in the domestic economies. Over the long term, thrift, productivity and reform—those are the things that count. Second, the actual confrontation that we see (challenges that Asia's labor force may face from U.S. political populism) may actually work in favor of investors in Asia. Let's look at the long-term internal drivers of Asian economic growth and then the reasons behind recent disappointing earnings performance in Asian corporates. Then maybe we can discern a brighter future ahead. We may see stronger overall growth in the Asian region for one thing and a distribution of that growth that may be more favorable to corporates than it has been in the immediate past. Third, confrontation also means less correlation, and the attractiveness of international assets rises.

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This content is published by the P&I Content Solutions Group, a division of Pensions & Investments, in collaboration with Matthews Asia. The content was not written by the editors of the newspaper, Pensions & Investments, and does not represent the views of the publication, or its parent company, Crain Communications.