Picking up pace: The bull statue in front of the Bursa Malaysia building. Analysts remain optimistic about the prospects of the FBM KLCI, noting that they expect the local equity market to be in a positive trend in the coming months. WHILE most Asian stock markets have had a good start year-to-date (ytd), Malaysian equities have seen a rather lacklustre performance. Despite the surge in regional markets, fuelled by receding Covid-19 infections, vaccine optimism and improving economic data, the FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI (FBM KLCI) has lost 3.2% since the beginning of 2021.The FBM KLCI, which is made up of 30 largest companies by market capitalisation on Bursa Malaysia, is one of the two benchmark indices in the region that is in the red so far this year. However, some analysts remain optimistic about the prospects of the FBM KLCI, noting that they expect the local equity market to be in a positive trend in the coming months. “The local bourse may be lagging its regional peers at the moment, but we can expect a catch-up play later on, as the Covid-19 vaccination drive, which will start next week in Malaysia, picks up pace, ” an analyst, with a local brokerage, tells StarBizWeek. “At the moment, sentiment is somewhat dented due to the recent spike in Covid-19 cases and the subsequent re-implementation of the movement control order (MCO), which, once again, has caused economic activities to slow down; nevertheless, we expect investor sentiment to improve in the coming months when the Covid-19 situation comes under control again, ” he explains. Another broker concurs, noting investors are on the sidelines at the moment, as they are concerned that the MCO 2.0 could throw a spanner in the works of the country’s economic recovery. “They will return to the market when there is more clarity. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, we expect to see things pick up again towards the second quarter of the year as Covid-19 related concerns abate, ” he argues. “At present, though, we see some rotational play going on mainly on small-cap stocks for sectors such as oil and gas, ” he adds. Fresh impetus Overall, small-cap stocks have thus far been the main outperformers in the local equity market, with the FBM Small Cap Index gaining 6% ytd, while mid to large-cap stocks have been sluggish. Sector-wise, technology; energy; and telecommunications and media are the outperformers, while construction; plantation; property and real estate investment trusts (REITs); and utilities have underperformed since the start of 2021. Technology stocks are on the rise amid the worldwide shortage of chips, while energy stocks are benefiting from stronger crude oil prices, which have surged past the US$60-per-barrel milestone, or up about 20% ytd. Construction; property and REITs; and utility stocks, on the other hand, have underperformed due to challenging industry outlook due to an economic slowdown, while plantation stocks are seeing profit-taking after a strong rally last year. Meanwhile, a fund manager points out there is a lack of catalyst in the market in the immediate term, hence the weak performance of the FBM KLCI vis-a-vis other regional markets. He adds the FBM KLCI is presently in a consolidation mode in part because of a relatively good run last year. “The Malaysian equity market performed well last year; in fact, it was among the handful in the region that staged a positive performance in 2020, while most of its regional peers ended that year in the red. There is no doubt that much of the 2020 rally was driven by liquidity, and also the pricing in of recovery from the fallout of the Covid-19 post-MCO 1.0, ” he says. “A fresh impetus is needed to draw investors in, in a big way – otherwise we will continue to see the market moving sideways, or range bound, ” he adds. In its strategy report following the implementation of MCO 2.0, Public Investment Bank noted that the market sentiment had taken a significant turn for the better in early December, it had cautioned that Covid-19-related concerns could still trip up the enthusiasm in the market in the first half of 2021. “Be that as it may, we do not think it will derail current market conditions altogether. The market remains a trading-oriented one with volatile swings to be expected, though presenting selective opportunities, ” it wrote last month. The brokerage remains optimistic that the FBM KLCI will move higher towards the end of the year, maintaining its end-2021 target at 1,750 points based on 16.5 times one-year forward earnings. The year-end targets of other brokerages also suggest optimism over the prospects of the Malaysian equity market. For instance, MIDF Research maintains its FBM KLCI year-end 2021 target at 1,700 points, valuing the market at 17.5 times earnings, while TA Research pegs its target at 1,830 based on a 2022 earnings multiple of 17.5 times. “Since the valuation is based on next year’s earnings, we believe there is still room for corporations to play catch-up with effective vaccines around the corner and the government engaging with more vaccine producers to obtain them and inoculate the Malaysian population, ” TA Research argues in its recent report.
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