2024 Asia Equities Outlook: India vs. China
Welcome to Thoughts on the market. I'm Jonathan Garner, Morgan Stanley's Chief Asia and Emerging Market Equity Strategist. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'm going to be discussing our continued preference for Indian equities versus China equities. It's Thursday, December 7th at 9 a.m. in Singapore.
MSCI India is tracking towards a third straight year of outperformance of MSCI China, and India is currently our number one pick. Indeed, we're running our largest overweight at 100 basis points versus benchmark. In contrast, we reduced China back to equal weight in the summer of this year. So going into 2024, we're currently anticipating a fourth straight year of India outperformance versus China.
Central to our bullish view on India versus China, is the trend in earnings. Starting in early 2021, MSCI India earnings per share in US dollar terms has grown by 61% versus a decline of 18% for MSCI China. As a result, Indian earnings have powered ahead on a relative basis, and this is the best period for India earnings relative to China in the modern history of the two equity markets.
There are two fundamental factors underpinning this trend in India's favor, both of which we expect to continue to be present in 2024. The first is India's relative economic growth, particularly in nominal GDP terms. Our economists have written frequently in recent months on China's persistent 3D challenges, that is its battle with debt, deflation and demographics. And they're forecasting another subdued year of around 5% nominal GDP growth in 2024. In contrast, their thesis on India's decade suggests nominal GDP growth will be well into double digits as both aggregate demand and crucially supply move ahead on multiple fronts.
The second factor is currency stability. Our FX team anticipate that for India, prudent macro management, particularly on the fiscal deficit, geopolitical dynamics and inward multinational investment, can lead to continued Rupee stability in real effective terms versus volatility in previous cycles. For the Chinese Yuan, in contrast, the real effective exchange rates has begun to slide lower as foreign direct investment flows have turned negative for the first time and domestic capital flight begins to pick up.
Push backs we get on continuing to prefer India to China in 2024, are firstly around potential volatility of the Indian markets in an election year. But secondly, a bigger concern is relative valuations. Now, as always, we feel it's important to contextualize valuations versus return on equity and return on equity trajectory. Currently, India is trading a little over 3.7x price to book for around 15% ROE. This means it has one of the highest ROE's in emerging markets, but is the most expensive market. And in price to book terms, second only to the US globally. China is trading on a much lower price to book of 1.3x, but its ROE is 10% and indeed on an ROE adjusted basis, it's not particularly cheap versus other emerging markets such as Korea or South Africa.
Importantly for India, we expect ROE to remain high as earnings compound going forward, and corporate leverage can build from current levels as nominal and real interest rates remain low to history. So the outlook is positive. But for China, the outlook is very different. And in a recent detailed piece, drawing on sector inputs from our bottom up colleagues, we concluded that whilst the base case would be for ROE stabilization, if reflation is successful, there's also a bear case for ROE to fall further to around 7% over the medium term, or less than half that of India today.
Finally, within the two markets we’re overweight India, financials, consumer discretionary and industrials. And these are sectors which typically do best in a strong underlying growth environment. They're the same sectors on which we're cautious in China. There our focus is on A-shares rather than large cap index names, and we like niche technology, hardware and clean energy plays which benefit from China's policy objectives.
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