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Fine China

The re-opening of China's economy and society will doubtless have a profound impact on global markets this year, and has already caused some allocators to look again at their China exposure.

So we had a dig through our data to see where the most popular Asia ex-Japan funds owned by the DFMs are investing.

As the chart below shows, the MSCI AC Asia ex-Japan index contains a 36 per cent allocation to China, and only two of the funds owned by the DFMs we cover, Federated Hermes Asia ex-Japan and Veritas Asia, are overweight relative to the index.

On average, the top Asia Pacific picks used by DFMs have an 18.8 per cent allocation to China - a large underweight. 

Jupiter Asia Income is the eye catcher here with zero allocated to China, while sector specialists Stewart Investors have just 4.8 per cent of its Asia Pacific Leaders Sustainable fund allocated to Chinese equities. 

There seems to be a definite either/or view regarding Chinese and Indian equities, with the Stewart fund, which is so underweight China, having 47 per cent in Indian equities, compared to the index weighting of 16 per cent, while the Hermes fund with the overweight to China has 0.7 per cent in India.

The Jupiter fund which has zero allocated to China in contrast has 17 per cent in India.

The average fund in the sector is slightly underweight to Indian equities, which have performed well in recent times relative to those of China.

One of the eye-catching parts of the above graph is the substantial overweight many of the most popular funds have to Australia.

The index has an exposure of just 0.8 per cent while the top picked funds have an 11 per cent exposure to Australia.

One wonders if this is a function of the strong presence of mining stocks, and indeed the fund with the largest exposure is Jupiter Asian Income at 34 per cent (though even if this fund is removed from the mix, the average exposure is still far overweight at about 9 per cent).

Economically, both China and India are sensitive to rising commodity prices, and higher US interest rates, and so could benefit from the decline in expectations around either of those in 2023.

But for proper confidence to build around the future of the Chinese economy, it may be that clarity around the true health of the country's property market is needed. 

One major advantage India may have over China in the long-term is population, as China's one child policy means it faces a deep demographic issue at the same time as India’s population continues to grow.

Those bullish on the outlook for the Chinese economy take the view that the continued migration of people from the countryside to the cities provides a significant productivity boost and grows the economy. 

The re-opening of China also has the potential to boost the tourism sectors of neighbouring areas.

Hong Kong is 7.5 per cent of the index, with the average exposure to the region of 10.7 per cent. Average exposure to Singapore among DFM picks is 6.5 per cent - nearly twice the market - while exposures to Indonesia and Vietnam are also overweight.

Prusik Asian Equity Income has some of the biggest overweights here, with just under a third of its capital deployed to Hong Kong's equity market, 12 per cent invested in Singapore and 8.7 per cent in Indonesia.

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