The economic downturn in developed countries in the wake of the financial crisis levelled the playing field, bringing the US, Europe and the UK in line with struggling Japan, while emerging markets experienced a strong performance and then a subsequent slowdown.
In recent months, however, Asia is beginning to reassert itself as a region to be reckoned with, and this is not just limited to such economic heavyweights as Japan and China.
The latest figures from the Investment Association show that although Asian equity funds saw net retail outflows of £15m in February, Japanese equity funds was the third best-selling region with net retail inflows of £173m, beaten only by Global and European offerings.
Furthermore, the past 12 months has seen Asia-focused indices significantly outperform the wider market, with the MSCI China index increasing 37.27 per cent in the year to March 25 compared with the 19.69 per cent rise in the MSCI World index, according to FE Analytics.
Meanwhile, the MSCI Japan index has gained 32.4 per cent, while the MSCI AC Asia index has added 28.77 per cent and the MSCI AC Asia Pacific ex Japan index has recorded a 21.78 per cent increase.
So what is driving the popularity of Asian equities in particular? Japan’s commitment to monetary easing is one factor, as is the potential from improving corporate governance in the country, which could make companies a more attractive proposition for some investors.
Meanwhile, India’s stockmarket recovery under the leadership of recently elected Narendra Modi is close to meteoric, with the MSCI India index recording a 39.53 per cent increase in the past 12 months, almost 20 percentage points more than the MSCI World index rise.
But while these countries have dominated the headlines, there are improvements and changes across Asia that are adding up to interesting investment opportunities. In March the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlighted the “strong and stable growth” enjoyed by Indonesia in the past 15 years since the East Asian crisis in 1997.
Ángel Gurría, secretary-general of the OECD, acknowledges there remains a lot of work to be done as economic growth in Indonesia slowed to 5 per cent in 2014 as reform momentum stalled.
He adds: “To put Indonesia back on a trajectory of stronger, sustainable and inclusive growth requires doubling down on fiscal and structural reforms. To help Indonesian firms compete globally, to attract value-added foreign direct investment and to ensure prosperity can be shared by all regions, there is an urgent need to boost the quantity and quality of infrastructure on land and sea. To support such investments in inclusive growth, Indonesia first needs to create the necessary fiscal space by reprioritising existing spending and raising revenue.”
For Asia, reform is the byword of 2015, and if these countries can succeed in implementing at least some of these measures, then the opportunities for investment in the region look set to improve further.
Nyree Stewart is features editor at Investment Adviser