Asian stocks saw big foreign outflows in 2021 despite Dec buying

Foreigners were net purchasers of Asian equities in December but the inflows paled in comparison with the massive outflows faced throughout last year, as regional stocks were hit by a strong dollar and a dip in business activity due to COVID-19-led curbs.

Cross-border investors purchased Asian equities worth a net $5.85 billion in South Korean, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and India last month, marking their biggest monthly inflow in 2021.

Yet, the region faced total outflows worth $35 billion last year, the biggest since 2008, the data showed.

“FIIs have largely shunned Asian markets for the last couple of months largely due to an appreciating U.S. dollar and well performing developed market equities, while Asian peers had been grappling COVID-19 waves and regulatory actions,” said Suresh Tantia, senior investment strategist at Credit Suisse.

Investors were reluctant to take risks last year, especially in the region’s tech sector, due to rising costs, a disruption in its supply chain, and as China kicked off a sweeping crackdown on its tech and internet firms.

South Korea and Taiwan, which depend heavily on its tech export revenues, saw outflows worth 22.85 billion and $16.25 billion last year.

Also, concerns in China’s real estate sector, with its largest builder China Evergrande Group struggling to repay its debt, also hit sentiment.

“In China, the real estate challenge will provide a headwind for growth for 2022, but we believe that the targeted easing should spur momentum, particularly with manufacturing upgrading and green investment becoming the bright spot,” said Jessica Tea, senior investment specialist at BNP Paribas asset management.

The MSCI Asia-Pacific index (.MIAP00000PUS) dropped 3.4% last year, compared with the MSCI World index’s (.MIWD00000PUS) gain of 16.8%.

Indonesia and Indian equities received net inflows last year, however, the latter witnessed outflows worth $5.12 billion in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Jun Rong Yeap, market strategist at IG, said investors may be unwilling to take more risks in India, as the country looks more vulnerable to COVID-19 risks, as just 43.6% of its population are fully vaccinated.

“Although most Asian economies are well into their re-opening, we think it is still too early to expect continued FII inflows in the near term,” said Credit Suisse’s Tantia.

“Asian equities are not particularly attractive given the flat-lined earnings revisions despite a -1.3 standard deviation discount to global equities on P/E basis. COVID-19 uncertainties still remain with the rise of Omicron.”