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A new property development by Agung Podomoro, one of IndonesiaÍs biggest property developers, is seen in Jakarta in this photo from January 19, 2012. (SUPRI/REUTERS)
A new property development by Agung Podomoro, one of IndonesiaÍs biggest property developers, is seen in Jakarta in this photo from January 19, 2012. (SUPRI/REUTERS)

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Asian sovereign bonds: a resilient refuge for investors Add to ...

Asian bonds seem likely to gain from growing anxiety about Europe and China. The region’s robust finances have made its sovereign debt a safe harbour as larger economies sputter. An indiscriminate selloff would hurt everyone, but Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines all have qualities that should give them greater resilience.

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Worse-than-expected economic data from China and the prospect of a Greek exit from the euro zone have sparked a stampede from risk assets. Investors fear global growth will slow, and that the selloff will snowball. One way bleaker conditions in Europe could reach Asia is through its banks. European lenders pulled at least $135.8-billion (U.S.) in credit out of Asia in the second half of 2011, according to the Bank for International Settlements.

Asian sovereign bonds should benefit from weaker growth, lower inflation and lower interest rates. The safest are those that are also less vulnerable to outflows. Indonesia, for example, has public debt of less than a quarter of GDP – even Germany owes three times as much. It has relatively little short-term external debt and a much lower reliance on credit from European banks than other Asian economies. Yet the government’s 10-year bonds yield 4.7 percentage points more than Treasuries.

Japan, despite bonds that yield less than Treasuries and a government debt 1.5 times larger relative to its economy than Greece’s, is safer still. Foreigners own less than 7 per cent of its bonds, which limits the potential for forced selling, and Japanese deflation has kept demand steady. By contrast, foreigners hold 80 per cent of Australia’s government debt.

The most unlikely refuge is the Philippines. Though impoverished, its government has managed to build a $76-billion foreign reserve buffer, equivalent to almost six times its short-term external debt, and finances 95 per cent of its public debt at home. Yet Philippine bonds still pay 4 per cent more than U.S. Treasuries. Such trades are still risky – not everyone wants to go long the Philippine peso. But the worse things get elsewhere, the more palatable that risk may seem.

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