Small stocks in the Philippines are thriving amid a surge in demand from retail investors, generating the best returns in Asia’s worst performing equity market this year.

All but one of the 10 biggest gainers in the country in 2021 have a market value of less than $171 million. The sole exception, Apollo Global Capital Inc., is worth $1.47 billion — about as much as the smallest of the 30-member Philippine Stock Exchange Index. That benchmark is down more than 4.8% this year.

But investors looking to jump into small-caps should exercise caution, according to Jonathan Ravelas, chief market strategist at BDO Unibank Inc.

“These aren’t stocks institutional investors would touch,” Mr. Ravelas said. “These are mostly speculative. Those who rode these stocks on the way up should be fast to get off for things could turn quickly.”

Here are the five top performers this year:


Prime Media Holdings Inc. (+199%)

The stock has surged even after a property-for-share agreement with a prospective investor and the company’s owner was mutually ended in December, due to the impact of the pandemic on the real estate sector.


Premiere Horizon Alliance Corp. (+168%)

The company, which has investments in mining and real estate, gained on its inclusion in the FTSE Micro Cap and FTSE Total-Cap indexes.


Vulcan Industrial & Mining Corp. (+162%)

The producer of rock fragments used in concrete won government approval to transfer its mining areas to an affiliate and exit the industry. Its market cap reached a record P5.58 billion ($115 million) on Feb. 15.


Basic Energy Corp. (+134%)

The developer of renewable energy said a 2.8 billion peso capital infusion from the sale of a 67% stake will help fund a wind energy and geothermal projects at home. The company saw its market cap jump to a record P5.20 billion in January.


Lodestar Investment Holdings Inc. (+111%)

Most of this stock’s surge happened since the end of January when the firm said it’s conducting due diligence into several companies for possible investment. Lodestar said it is seeking businesses with substantial returns, including startups in information technology. – Bloomberg