Asia firms' confidence hits near two-year high on U.S., China pick-up: Thomson Reuters/INSEAD

Tue Mar 21, 2017 11:19pm EDT
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By Yawen Chen and Ryan Woo

BEIJING (Reuters) - Business sentiment at Asia's top companies rose to its highest in almost two years in the first quarter of 2017, buoyed by positive economic signs from the United States and China that underpinned improved global demand, a Thomson Reuters/INSEAD survey showed.

The Thomson Reuters/INSEAD Asian Business Sentiment Index .TRIABS RACSI, representing the six-month outlook of 96 firms, rebounded to 70 for January-March from 63 three months prior. A reading over 50 indicates a positive view.

During the quarter, the United States and China - two top destinations for Asian exporters - reported a slew of upbeat economic data that was far better than market expectations.

"Optimism about the U.S. economy, lack of immediate crisis in China, lack of bad news in Europe ... have reduced some of the immediate risks," said Singapore-based economics professor Antonio Fatas at global business school INSEAD.

Sentiment in export-oriented Malaysia rebounded the most, with its subindex jumping 20 points to a three-year high of 75, as most respondents reported an increase in business volume and a third said staffing had risen in the past three months. Sentiment also surged in the Philippines by 18 points, with a subindex of 88 making the country the most optimistic in Asia.

In other export-driven Asian countries too, such as Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand, corporate sentiment improved significantly, while China and India recorded a slight decline from the previous quarter.

"Stronger-than-expected export numbers have provided quite a relief for those economies, at least more than they have for China or India which are more domestically oriented," said Santitarn Sathirathai, head of emerging Asia economics at Credit Suisse in Singapore.

But for Chinese companies such as beauty app Meitu (1357.HK: Quote), strong domestic appetite for new services and goods in the country also points to a brighter business outlook that will see user traffic translate into profit.   Continued...

FILE PHOTO- Potential buyers look at models of a new public housing estate to be constructed in Singapore February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photos