Firms catering to consumption top stock indices

Airline caterer Sats is 2015's best-performing stock on the Straits Times Index, with Sats shares up 27 per cent.
Airline caterer Sats is 2015's best-performing stock on the Straits Times Index, with Sats shares up 27 per cent.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Movies, malls, meals and medicines. If the best-performing stocks from each of Asia's 10 main markets outside Japan are any guide, then 2015 belonged to companies that catered to consumption.

Not conspicuous, over-the-top gambling binges in Macau or splurging on expensive cars in Shanghai or Singapore, but small-ticket, largely middle-class spending.

Start, for instance, with Wanda Cinema Line. After all the nervous gyrations in Chinese equities, the cinema operator, which sold shares in January, is set to finish 2015 with an almost 1,100 per cent gain. The Shenzhen-listed firm, controlled by Asia's richest person Wang Jianlin, is benefiting from a 41 per cent increase in box-office receipts in the first nine months of the year.

Wanda Cinema's spectacular climb does add to evidence that China's shift away from exports and investment and towards more domestic consumption is not a pipe dream, at least not entirely.

Besides, the consumption boost in Asia is giving an added fillip to corporate profitability, thanks to falling commodity and energy prices. Take Sats, 2015's best-performing stock on the Straits Times Index.  

The airline caterer produced almost 14 million in-flight meals between April and September this year, and ended up saving 15 per cent on raw material costs from a year earlier. Sats shares are up 27 per cent.

Shopping has been a rewarding theme for shareholders, more than Asian real estate.

SM Prime Holdings, the star of the Philippine Stock Exchange Index, saw 11 per cent growth in retail and commercial rentals in the first nine months and a 30 per cent jump in revenue from subsidiary attractions like rides, bowling and ice staking, according to iTrade.

And despite the hype surrounding Asia's emerging e-commerce and digital champions, 2015 very clearly belonged to low-tech, old-economy equities. The one big exception was the Hong Kong-traded shares of Tencent, which returned a handsome 35 per cent.

The Asia top-10 list is also almost entirely divorced from finance, which is not surprising considering the region has seen a massive rise in leverage, and companies and households are looking to pare debt.

None of the publicly traded banks, which feature prominently on benchmark national indices, made the cut. Indeed, the only financial company was Indonesia's Kresna Graha Investama, which has zoomed 332 per cent this year, more than any other stock on the Jakarta Composite Index.

Optimism over US economic growth failed to translate into gains for shareholders in Asian electronics companies. It is illustrative perhaps that this year's best-performing stock on Taiwan's Taiex index is not the contract chip-making behemoth TSMC or iPhone assembler Hon Hai, both whose shares have done nothing much, but Li Cheng Enterprise, a maker of knitted fabrics that has chalked up returns on assets in excess of 20 per cent.

And the best-performing stock on India's benchmark Nifty Index is not a software vendor like Tata Consultancy or Infosys, but Bharat Petroleum, a state-owned oil refiner that has benefited from slumping crude prices.

Leading gains on South Korea's Kospi index is not Samsung Electronics but Hanmi Science, the holding firm for a drugmaker specialising in the treatment of diabetes.

Maybe global trade will limp back to normalcy in 2016, and shipbuilders, commodity exporters and auto and electronics parts suppliers will outshine companies focused on domestic consumption.

Yet, there is more enthusiasm even now for Asia's consumption potential than its production prowess. If 2016 proves to be another year of gains for Asia's growing middle class, then reading the tea leaves 12 months from now might once again show movies and malls at the fore.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2015, with the headline 'Firms catering to consumption top stock indices'. Print Edition | Subscribe