Report: The World’s Worst Stock Market Is Seeing Signs of Revival

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The tide appears to be turning for Malaysian stocks as the biggest exodus of global funds since 2015 dissipates.

  • Malaysia’s stock market, once deemed world’s worst, on the rebound
  • Last week, foreign investors poured in US$84 million – the most since late January
  • FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index has clawed back about half of this year’s loss of more than 5 per cent
  • Call for buys on Malaysian company shares, as earnings not expected to drop from here on
  • Reforms at state-linked companies, more political clarity and stimulus could see the benchmark gauge surge to 1,800 or even 1,900 
  • Investors see Malaysian equities safe for trading amid the ongoing US-China trade war

Overseas investors poured a net $84 million into the nation’s stocks last week, the most since late January, Bloomberg-compiled data show. The FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index has clawed back about half of this year’s more than 5% loss that had made it the world’s worst major market. Areca Capital Sdn Bhd says it’s time to buy, and company earnings are unlikely to get any worse.

“There is a bottom in earnings downgrades if you look at results, too-low expectations and low base,” said Danny Wong, chief executive officer at Areca Capital Sdn Bhd.

“We started to nibble in stocks two weeks ago after raising cash since the start of the year,” he said. Wong has been buying stocks with exposure to glove makers and companies tied to consumer and digital services.

A market turnaround would be a boost to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s struggle to win over investors since his historic election victory a year ago. Since then, more than $3 billion of foreign funds have flowed out of the market amid a public spending clampdown. Now, the government is showing signs of easing its austerity drive and reviving large state projects.

Hope of more interest rate cuts and earnings surprises at companies, including Telekom Malaysia Bhd and Tenaga Nasional Bhd have also aided investor sentiment.

So has the US-China trade war to some extent, with the nation’s equities seen as a safety trade by some investors seeking to escape global volatility. Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said last week Malaysia has benefited from the spat via trade diversion and business relocation. Recent trade data signals “robust” economic growth for the second quarter, he said.

Not everyone is optimistic.

Alan Richardson, a regional fund manager at Samsung Asset Management Co in Hong Kong, said he’s underweight on Malaysia stocks on concern over the government’s lack of fiscal flexibility to tackle a slowdown amid the external challenges. He still holds some Malaysian shares that have low correlation to the macro issues.

Other investors seem to be looking past the well-known economic concerns. The stock gauge has rebounded 3.5% since slumping to a 2015 low on May 24. The index is valued at 16.2 times projected 12-month earnings, down from this year’s peak of 16.5 in March, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Among the biggest gainers in the market rebound have been the nation’s builders, with the Bursa Malaysia Construction Index surging 35% so far this year.

“We see further revivals of large-scale infrastructure projects as catalysts that may provide further upside for construction stocks,” Tay Yow Ken, an analyst at RHB Investment Bank Bhd, wrote in a report Tuesday. “Contractors we met recently sounded more optimistic on the sector’s prospects, especially in 2H19.”

Reforms at state-linked companies, more political clarity and stimulus could see the benchmark gauge surge to 1,800 in the base scenario, or even reach 1,900 in the bullish case, Macquarie Group Ltd.’s analysts wrote in a note on April 26. The gauge retreated 0.1% to 1,654.03 as of the midday break in Kuala Lumpur.

There is a “bottom getting formed” and we are buying stocks, which are showing signs of an earnings recovery, Areca’s Wong said.