Matthews Asia Strategic Income Fund


Period ended 30 June 2019

For the first half of 2019, the Matthews Asia Strategic Income Fund returned 8.20% while its benchmark, the Markit iBoxx Asian Local Bond Index, returned 5.27%. For the quarter ending 30 June, the Fund returned 2.42% compared to the benchmark return of 2.11% over the same period. 

Market Environment:

The combination of supportive central banks and positive trade news led to a constructive environment for Asian fixed income over the second quarter, with Asian credit, currencies and rates all performing positively. The U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and emerging market central banks all moved in a dovish direction during the quarter, seemingly ending the momentum for higher rates around the world. Meanwhile, the G-20 Summit ended without an escalation in the U.S.—China trade war, at least temporarily removing the risk of a further tariff shock from the global economy.

While the quarter was positive overall, geopolitics led to unexpected volatility. The quarter began with a positive tone as data from the U.S. and China implied that fears of a synchronized growth slowdown may have been overdone. Optimism evaporated in early May, however, when President Trump threatened to raise tariffs on all Chinese imports, including consumer-related goods, and attempted to limit U.S. companies from doing business with Chinese tech giant Huawei. By the end of May, equity markets had relinquished most of their year-to-date gains.

For Asia credit, this caused high-yield spreads to widen by about 40 basis points during May and 35 basis points over the quarter. The rally in U.S. rates more than offset this modest spread widening, so total return from credit bonds was positive for the quarter. 

Asian local rates generally followed U.S. rates lower over the quarter, albeit to a lesser degree. Asia currency returns were mixed, with some currencies such as the Thai baht, the Philippine peso and the Indonesian rupiah outperforming the U.S. dollar, while others, notably the Chinese renminbi, the Korean won, and the Malaysian ringgit underperformed the U.S. dollar. 

Performance Contributors and Detractors:

During the first half and the second quarter, the biggest contributor to Fund performance was the portfolio's overweight in Asian USD high-yield corporate bonds, which delivered positive performance. Within high-yield corporate bonds, the strongest contributors over the quarter included PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara, a government-owned Indonesian utility, Tata Steel (ABJA Investment) and Indika Energy Capital III bonds. Our exposures to convertible bonds, including CP Foods Holdings, Weibo and Zhongsheng Group Holdings, also contributed strongly within corporate exposures. In addition, our exposure to the Vietnam government-backed Debt & Asset Trading Corp. contributed to outperformance.

The biggest detractors to our performance were our currency forward positions in the Korean won and the Chinese renminbi (RMB), both currencies that underperformed the U.S. dollar over the quarter. Other detractors to performance included our convertible bond position in Ctrip.com International, Ltd., a Chinese online travel agency, as well as our holding in the RMB-denominated bonds of China Jinmao (Franshion Brilliant, Ltd.), a Chinese property developer.

Notable Portfolio Changes:

We made a number of changes to the portfolio in the second quarter, rotating out of shorter-duration bonds and bonds with higher equity beta, and adding longer-duration bonds and issues with asymmetric risk profiles.

Within corporate bonds, we initiated positions in two Indian issuers: Shriram Transport Finance, an Indian non-bank finance company that issued a U.S.-dollar bond with an attractive spread premium given the recent non-banking financial companies sector (NBFC) funding crisis; and Tata Steel (ABJA Investment), one of the world's largest steel producers, where we gained exposure through a long-duration issue. We also initiated positions in two Chinese issuers: Logan Property Holdings, a top 20 developer that offered an attractive spread premium given its exposure to China's Greater Bay Area, and to the technology firm Weibo via convertible bonds that were trading close to their lowest possible level, and which we saw as offering an asymmetric risk profile.

We increased overall duration in the portfolio to 4.6 years from 3.9 years by rotating out of short-duration bonds, including Aluminum Corporation of China (Chinalco Capital Holdings), Olam International and Krung Thai Bank Public, and also by adding longer-duration exposures. We also exited two bond holdings: Huaneng Hong Kong Capital and China Minmetals. Despite being perpetual bonds, they did not offer material duration due to the embedded fixed-to-floating coupon resets.

Outside of corporate bonds, we added to Indian duration via interest-rate swaps to take advantage of lower-than-expected growth and inflation in the country, which we expect to bring about rate cuts. We also added Malaysian government bond exposure given the country's weak economy, attractive carry profile and as we believe the current market is underpricing the likelihood of rate cuts.

Finally on currency, we increased exposure to the U.S. dollar by cutting exposure to most Asian local currencies, with the Indian rupee and Malaysian ringgit being notable exceptions.

Outlook:

The U.S. and global economies both look to be late cycle, characterized by falling inflation and moderating GDP growth. Fed funds futures are pricing in two interest rate cuts by the Fed before the end of this year. Despite lackluster growth in the U.S., its equities continue to rally.

How is it possible that the bond markets are pricing such negativity while equities are so bullish? Our best explanation for this is that equity markets are pricing in perfect execution by the Fed. In other words, equities are expecting the Fed and other central banks to deliver sufficient rate cuts and loosen monetary policies to extend the current expansion. 

Because few Asia government bond curves have fully priced in the dovish G-3 central banks, we maintain a long exposure to interest rate duration in Asia, where the bond markets have more room to rally. We expect that over the coming quarters, Asian central banks will become increasingly dovish, with their respective yield curves falling to price in more rate cuts. This means that even those central banks that may have been reluctant to cut should likely follow suit. We place the more-developed, lower-yielding countries like Thailand, South Korea and Malaysia solidly in that camp. Even the emerging Asian economies of India and Indonesia will have more room to cut rates given subdued domestic inflation. 

Given our outlook, the biggest risk is that the equity markets are wrong. This would mean potential credit spread widening. However, in our base case, lower rates globally bodes well for credit spreads to remain stable.


Tata Steel is listed as ABJA Investment Co. Pte, Ltd.
China Jinmao is listed as Franshion Brilliant, Ltd.
Aluminium Corporation of China is listed as Chinalco Capital Holdings, Ltd.


Rolling 12 Month Returns for the period ended 30 June 2019
Matthews Asia Strategic Income Fund 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015
I (Acc) (USD) 7.03% 0.64% 8.36% 4.41% n.a.
Markit iBoxx Asian Local Bond Index (USD) 8.42% 0.88% 0.89% 4.55% n.a.

Risk Considerations

The value of an investment in the Fund can go down as well as up and possible loss of principal is a risk of investing. Investments in international and emerging market securities may involve risks such as social and political instability, market illiquidity, exchange-rate fluctuations, a high level of volatility and limited regulation. Fixed income investments are subject to additional risks, including, but not limited to, interest rate, credit and inflation risks. The Fund may invest in the following: derivatives which can be volatile and affect Fund performance; high yield bonds (junk bonds) which can subject the Fund to substantial risk of loss; and structured investments which can change the risk or return, or replicate the risk or return of an underlying asset. The Fund invests in holdings denominated in foreign currencies, and is exposed to the risk that the value of the foreign currency will increase or decrease. These and other risks associated with investing in the Fund can be found in the Prospectus.

Performance figures discussed in the Fund Manager Commentary above reflect that of the Institutional Accumulation Class Shares and has been calculated in USD.  Performance details provided for the Fund are based on a NAV-to-NAV basis, with any dividends reinvested, and are net of management fees and other expenses.  Past performance information is not indicative of future performance. Investors may not get back the full amount invested.

The information contained herein has been derived from sources believed to be reliable and accurate at the time of compilation, but no representation or warranty (express or implied) is made as to the accuracy or completeness of any of this information. Matthews International Capital Management, LLC (“Matthews Asia”) and its affiliates do not accept any liability for losses either direct or consequential caused by the use of this information. 

Information contained herein is sourced from Matthews Asia unless otherwise stated. The views and opinions in this commentary were as of the report date, subject to change and may not reflect the writer’s current views. They are not guarantees of performance or investment results and should not be taken as investment advice. Investment decisions reflect a variety of factors, and the managers reserve the right to change their views about individual stocks, sectors, and the markets at any time. As a result, the views expressed should not be relied upon as a forecast of the Fund’s future investment intent. It should not be assumed that any investment will be profitable or will equal the performance of any securities or any sectors mentioned herein. The information does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any securities mentioned.

Investors should not invest in the Fund solely based on the information in this material alone. Please refer to the Prospectus for further details of the risk factors.

Sources: Brown Brothers Harriman (Luxembourg) S.C.A, Matthews Asia, FactSet Research Systems, Bloomberg