Foreign investors offload Asian equities as Sino-U.S. trade war flares

August 7, 2019 3:38 AM

By Patturaja Murugaboopathy and Gaurav Dogra

(Reuters) - Foreign investors dumped Asian equities in the first six days of August after two months of buying, as the United States ramped up pressure on China with a $300 billion trade barrage last week.

Overseas investors sold about $4.5 billion of regional equities during the period, data from stock exchanges in South Korea, Taiwan, India, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam showed.

(Graphic: Foreign investments in Asian equities -

Sharp outflows from Asian markets point to increased worries that trade tensions between the world's two top economies could escalate, and regional economies and corporate earnings might deteriorate further.

U.S. President Donald Trump said last Thursday he would slap a 10% tariff on the remaining $300 billion of Chinese imports starting Sept. 1, marking an end to a truce in the year-long trade war that was struck in June.

In response, China let its currency weaken 1.4% on Monday, sending it past the key 7-per-dollar level for the first time in more than a decade, and then the United States labeled Beijing a currency manipulator.

MSCI Asia-ex-Japan index <.MIAPJ0000PUS> had fallen 6.4% this month as of Tuesday's close, after shedding 1.7% in July.

"Recent foreign outflows from Asian equities clearly suggest that investors are getting nervous on markets given escalating trade tensions," said Chetan Seth, a strategist for Nomura Securities in Singapore.

It might get harder for the United States and China to ease or soften these tensions given how events have unfolded over the last few days, he said.

Goldman Sachs said markets were pricing in a less than 15% chance of a trade deal being agreed. It estimated 13% and 8% cumulative earnings downside for MSCI China and MSCI Asia-ex-Japan in 2019-2020 under a "no deal" scenario.

Taiwan and India saw the biggest outflows in Asia, with net selling of $1.8 billion and $1.1 billion respectively. South Korea also witnessed outflows, of $919 million.

Taiwan and South Korean companies are more exposed to the Sino-U.S. trade tussle as they have extensive ties with tech firms in China and are part of their supply chains.

Indian shares were undermined last month after the federal budget raised import tariffs on many items, hiked taxes on the rich and proposed changes in shareholding norms.

A slew of disappointing earnings by Asian firms for the second quarter also increased investor caution on regional markets.

Refinitiv data showed major Asian firms such as Tata Motors (OTC: TAMO), Canon Inc <7751.T> and Nissan <7201.T> have posted second-quarter earnings below expectations.

"So far 1H earnings in Asia-ex-Japan markets have been below estimates – although still early days. The question investors need to answer is what happens to 2020 earnings as markets in 2H will start discounting next year's earnings," said Nomura's Seth.

"If trade tensions persist, there may be more downside to current consensus earnings estimates."

In July, foreigners had invested $234 million in Asia, much lesser than $4.2 billion inflows in June.

(Reporting by Patturaja Murugaboopathy and Gaurav Dogra in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)