Asian fixed income space 'may face squeeze'

Monetary tightening might threaten Asia's status as a safe haven within the emerging market fixed income space, said a strategist.

This is because rising food prices in the region might cause inflation to edge up, said Mr Eric Robertsen, head of global macro strategy and foreign-exchange research at Standard Chartered.

As central banks raise interest rates in response, Asian local-currency government bonds are vulnerable, he told a media briefing.

In particular, Chinese and Malaysian bonds are less preferred.

In China, analysts do not expect significant monetary tightening. This is because expected 2018 inflation - at 2.7 per cent - may be within a 3 per cent official target.

However, yields on long-dated bonds might rise due to higher supply, inflation and de-leveraging in the financial system, StanChart said.

In Malaysia, oil price-led inflation and a stronger economy have resulted in Bank Negara Malaysia, the central bank, sounding more hawkish. There might be a potential rate hike later this month.

StanChart thus recommends that clients reduce positions in short-term bonds.

However, the bank's analysts like Indian bonds, which have suffered recently owing to fears of oil price-led inflation.

StanChart thinks inflation will not rise that fast due to excess capacity limiting economic growth.

Given this backdrop, Indian bonds look attractive, it said.

Other than Asia, Latin American bonds might be attractive due to monetary easing pursued by central banks there, Mr Robertsen said.

Meanwhile, Asian equities also look attractive in an environment of increasing growth.

StanChart chief economist David Mann said that even with China's projected slowdown this year, Asia is still the top growth driver in the world.

The Philippines and Vietnam are exceeding their 10-year average growth rate, with Malaysia potentially achieving the same feat, he said.

Mr Robertsen added that there is a strong correlation between economic growth and earnings growth.

Ultimately, he said, StanChart Research is still positive on emerging markets, but is more selective.

"The drivers for emerging market assets are changing," he said.

"For the first time in a couple of years, within the emerging market complex, you will see the fixed income markets in Latin America and India outperform Asia."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2018, with the headline 'Asian fixed income space 'may face squeeze''. Print Edition | Subscribe