Meltdown memories grip Asean stocks as Indonesia slides

The Indonesia Stock Exchange (IDX) halted trading at 10.36am Jakarta time on Thursday as the Jakarta Composite Index (JCI) shed 257.5 points to 4,891.88 just two hours after the opening bell. - Reuters -

SINGAPORE: A crash in Indonesian stocks is evoking memories of market meltdowns in Southeast Asia in the depth of the March swoon.

Regional shares have slipped after Jakarta’s surprise return to a lockdown sent Indonesian stocks 5% lower on Thursday before triggering a brief trading halt.

The volatility continued on Friday as the Jakarta Composite Index erased a loss of as much as 2.8% within first 20 minutes of trading. Some market participants are worried that such a move can further spook foreign funds who have been selling Asean stocks at an exceptional pace.

International investors have sold more than $17 billion worth of stocks in Southeast Asia’s main markets this year, set for their biggest annual withdrawal in at least a decade, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The re-introduction of stricter measures to combat Covid-19 can exacerbate those outflows by dashing hopes that a floor has been reached in economic activity.

"Southeast Asia in general and Indonesia in particular will now go further down on foreign investors screens, ” said Nirgunan Tiruchelvam, head of consumer equity research at Tellimer. "Even the most discerning investor would not have thought of strict lockdowns being reimposed.”

With technology and growth stocks being this year’s favorites among investors as consumers and businesses move online, Southeast Asia -- which is laden with cyclical shares -- has dropped off global investors’ radar. Sellers have continued to pile up even as calls for a rotation to value stocks are getting louder after the Federal Reserve signaled more tolerance for inflation.

Any noticeable rotation is yet to be seen in Asean shares even as they trade near their cheapest valuations relative to world equities, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

"A value trade won’t resonate in Southeast Asia unless the global tech story bursts, ” said Tiruchelvam.

To be sure, a successful rollout of a coronavirus vaccine can provide some support to Asean’s battered cyclical stocks.

Several equity markets in the region are down more than 20% for the year, making them among the worst performers in the world. Malaysia has fared better with a 6.4% decline, bolstered by the meteoric rally in glove makers.

Thursday’s market reaction to Covid-19 restrictions "outlines the concerns here, both of the risks surrounding the dent to economic and financial conditions and also the broad issue of lingering health implications, ” said Jingyi Pan, a strategist at IG Asia Pte. - Bloomberg

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