By Krista A. M. Montealegre
PHILIPPINE EQUITIES are unlikely to return to bear territory for some time despite volatility in global markets, with the country’s long-term economic growth prospects remaining intact against a backdrop of normalizing interest rates and mounting inflation pressure, stock market analysts said on Tuesday.
After a dizzying ascent to record levels at the start of the year, global equity markets have recently succumbed to a sharp sell-off after the United States Treasury yields hit a four-year high.
This revived concerns of a repeat of the 2013 “taper tantrum” that prompted the Federal Reserve to gradually scale back its monetary stimulus program, eventually roiling worldwide financial markets.
The local market was not spared, with the Philippine Stock Exchange index (PSEi) — a barometer of investor confidence — erasing its gains early this month at the height of the correction.
During the BusinessWorld Stock Market Roundtable at the Makati Shangri-La, COL Financial Group, Inc. Vice-President and Head of Research April Lynn L. Tan said the online brokerage downgraded its 2018 forecast for the PSEi to 8,750 from 9,300 after factoring in the impact of higher borrowing costs.
Philstocks Financial, Inc. Head of Research and Engagement Justino B. Calaycay, Jr. also hinted that a revision of its base-case forecast of 7,900-8,200 and best-case projection of 10,700-11,000 is in the cards after the release of the first-quarter corporate earnings.
Taking into account past corrections, COL Financial’s Ms. Tan expects the PSEi to bottom out at the 7,881 and 8,062 levels around March and May. The benchmark PSEi added 0.14% to close at 8,722.70 on Tuesday after spending most of the day in the red.
“Those waiting for a bear market, I’m sorry, I think you will be disappointed,” Ms. Tan said.
The Philippines, while vulnerable to wild price swings because of the sharp rally at the start of the year, deserves to trade at a premium over other Asian markets, said Michael Gerard D. Enriquez, chief investment officer at Sun Life of Canada Philippines, Inc., citing the robust domestic economy, acceleration of the government’s infrastructure program and the passage of other tax reform packages.
“As a long-term investor, we are excited about how infrastructure will play a role in the GDP. Right now, it’s 70% consumption, but if the government starts to spend and investments come into play, we can see our (gross domestic product) growth breaching seven percent,” Mr. Enriquez said.
First Metro Asset Management, Inc. President Augusto M. Cosio said the global asset allocation for emerging markets has been increasing in recent years, even as international fund managers are still underinvested in the Philippines.
“Emerging markets are the trade of the decade. Emerging markets, indeed, are the place to be,” Mr. Cosio said.
Another key risk this year is higher inflation as a result of weak peso and a new tax reform law, which threatens to dent consumer spending, Ms. Tan said. Consumption is one of the key drivers of the economy, accounting for two-thirds of gross domestic product (GDP).
The central bank expects inflation to average 4.3% this year, topping the 2-4% target range due to price pressures from fuel, cars, tobacco, coal and sugar-sweetened drinks.
“This too will pass. It is not a runaway inflation,” Ms. Tan said. “The Bangko Sentral has the tools to control inflation. It is not a long-term problem. It is a short-term issue.”
Aside from the possibility of more aggressive pace of rate hikes by the Fed and faster inflation, Sun Life’s Mr. Enriquez tagged the peso’s depreciation, worsening current account deficit and government execution of projects as the other key risks.
“There’s a lot of near-term potential disruptors, but over the medium-term, we continue to be constructive on equities market in general,” Mr. Enriquez said.
The analysts were overweight on banks because of rising interest rates, lower reserve requirement and fast loan growth.
The consumer sector may be “challenged” because of quickening inflation, and the infrastructure sector faces some “uncertainty” over how the government pursues big-ticket projects, they said.
“Whether the world is going up or going down, there are always opportunities out there. It’s only a matter of looking for them,” Philstocks’ Mr. Calaycay said.