Foreign funds leaving Asian markets slowly

Written by Reuters | Singapore | Updated: Sep 14 2013, 08:07am hrs
Fear in Asian financial markets of what the Fed might do may have been greatly exaggerated, judging by how little foreign investment that entered Asia during the past four years has left so far in anticipation of tighter US monetary policy.

Government bonds, currencies and equities in Asia have sold off since April after the US Federal Reserve signalled it will soon cut back its bond-buying programme, effectively beginning a tightening in its nearly five-year super-easy monetary settings.

Yet, despite a bloodbath in emerging markets in June that sent stock markets in Asia to multi-year troughs and currencies such as the Indian rupee to record lows, both the anecdotal evidence and the data suggest very little money has left Asia.

Going purely by foreign exchange reserves data, emerging Asia's top 10 economies, from China to the Philippines, received inflows worth $2.1 trillion between November 2008 and April 2013 the period when the Fed pumped massive amounts of cheap money into markets.

Since April, about $86 billion, or 4% of that cash, has left Asia. Half of those outflows have been from China.

That's pretty modest by most standards for financial markets, typically prone to buying the rumour and selling the news.

Forex reserves may not be the best barometer to estimate fund flows since the numbers include the impact of central bank intervention, possibly current account flows and fluctuation in the values of currencies.

But other independent measures of capital flows point toward the same conclusion. Deutsche Bank estimates that foreign investors have withdrawn roughly $19 billion from Asian local currency debt markets between June and August. Despite that, net flows for the year are a positive $5 billion and the outflows pale when compared with inflows of $203 billion since early 2009.

"Ten years of large capital flows into emerging markets cannot be unwound in 10 weeks," said Stephen Jen, co-founder of London-based investment firm SLJ Macro Partners.