Amid yen weakness, some Asian winners

April 17, 2013

Asian equity markets tend to be casualties of weak yen. That has generally been the case this time too, especially for South Korea.

Data from our cousins at Lipper offers some evidence to ponder, with net outflows from Korean equity funds at close to $700 million in the first three months of the year. That’s the equivalent of about 4 percent of the total assets held by those funds. The picture was more stark for Taiwan funds, for whom a similar net outflow equated to almost 10 percent of total AuM. Look more broadly though and the picture blurs; Asia ex-Japan equity funds have seen net inflows of more than $3 billion in the first three months of the year, according to Lipper data.

Analysts polled by Reuters see more drops ahead for the yen which they predict will trade around 102 per dollar by year-end (it was at 77.4 last September). Some banks such as Societe Generale expect a 110 exchange rate and therefore recommend being short on Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese equities.

But the weak yen may not be unilaterally bad news for Asian companies. Morgan Stanley analysts have compiled a list of Asian shares that could gain from falling yen costs. Take India’s Maruti-Suzuki. It has zero exposure to yen in terms of revenue but its cost exposure (due to import or components) is 34 percent. A similar picture at China Motor Corp. in Taiwan. Another Taiwanese firm, semiconductor maker Siliconware Precision has a 2 percent revenue exposure to Japan but the yen accounts for 15 percent of its cost base, according to MS data.

Other examples.  MS highlights Taiwan’s casings maker Catcher which holds 54 percent of its debt in yen. It calculates that every 1 percent fall in the yen translates to 1.3 percent upside to its annual income. Tour operators and airlines could also benefit if they are able to send more visitors to newly-cheap Japan.

So a basket of Taiwanese “winner” stocks picked by MS, has returned 10 percent in dollar terms since last November. And broader Taipei stocks are up 1.5 percent year-to-date, compared with a 4 percent drop in Seoul.

So what of South Korea? The Seoul index is down around 4 percent so far this year. But MS point out that companies such as Samsung Engineering and Hyundai Heavy Industries actually performed pretty decently during past periods of yen weakness. As we have written in the past, auto and electronics makers are indeed vulnerable to the weak yen, but not every sector will necessarily take a hit.

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