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Brian Tora: Asia Pacific tipped as the engine of growth

Markets have eased on the euro but Asia remains good for the long term

Brian Tora MM blog side

There was much happening last week. Davos kicked off with mixed messages being delivered. As I pen these words, the action is still continuing but it seems as though business leaders are downbeat and politicians more optimistic. At least, there was some hope expressed that the worst of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe may be behind us.

And company results started feeding through – generally painting a more pleasing picture than had been feared. If that seems at odds with the initial views expressed at Davos, well, it takes two to make a market.

Perhaps the most important aspect of all this is that equities kept trundling along, suggesting that investors at least were becomingrather more optimistic.

But sterling has not been playing ball, although the weaker pound does add to the argument for equities, given the international nature of our benchmark index.

The slide against the euro does indicate that foreign exchange traders also believe the fortunes of the single currency bloc may be on the mend. For people like me, who spend a fair bit of time in euroland, daily items have been getting that little bit more expensive.

Cheaper sterling might not be good news for holidaymakers but it should help our exporters. It might also stimulate some corporate activity.

Bid rumours were circulating last week that one of our best known high-street names might fall prey to a predator. This is the stuff of bull markets, not that investors should take too much notice of the City rumour mill.

Perhaps the most encouraging noises have been coming out of China. Despite the dramatic slowdown in growth, the Chinese economy is set to outpace those of the developed West for the foreseeable future. And according to a recently published report into the investment trust industry, managers are increasingly confident that it will be the Asia Pacific region that will continue to drive the global economy.

That this part of the world is becoming ever more important among the professional investor community is without doubt.

Interestingly, around 57 per cent of the investment trust global emerging markets sector is now committed to Asia. It is this sector that returned the best average performance over 10 years – plus 514 per cent, with country specialist: Asia Pacific in second place, returning 483 per cent and Asia Pacific excluding Japan up 352 per cent in third place.

On the back of this report, the Association of Investment Companies canvassed managers of these funds and found an almost unanimous enthusiasm for the region.

Well, they are hardly likely to rubbish the sector in which they specialise but it has not always been an easy region in which to deliver performance. In 2012, for example, Country Specialist: Asia Pacific trusts lost 22 per cent on average.

In the end, Chinese growth had to moderate but, with the population drift to the cities still continuing and a burgeoning middle class, there is every reason to believe that a 7 per cent plus annual rise in gross domestic product is sustainable.

The risk lies in the demographics of this vast nation.

The one-child policy is leaving a shrinking workforce supporting an ageing population. And they are far from being the only country facing this problem.

So if there is one topic likely to attract investor attention it is what effect an ageing population will have on governments and businesses.

Some countries face a positive time bomb. Italy appears particularly poorly placed, while the US is probably less vulnerable than many.

This is likely to be an area of interest to which I return in the months and weeks ahead.

I am sure solutions will be found, but in the meantime hope it does not disturb the better tone to markets being established.

Brian Tora is an associate with investment managers JM Finn & Co

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