Five themes Asia investors need to know

An Indonesian man looks at a running display showing share prices at the stocks exchange building in Jakarta.
Bay Ismoyo | AFP | Getty Images
An Indonesian man looks at a running display showing share prices at the stocks exchange building in Jakarta.

Volatility has become a market hallmark this year and investors across Asia are grappling with a slew of issues ranging from oil's surprise price plunge to a fresh drive for reform across the region.

Here are the top five themes up for discussion at the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference over the next week.

Economic reforms

Countries across the region are grappling with how to address economic imbalances, attract fresh investment and even stay relevant.

In China, the world's second-largest economy, concerns are emerging that long-sought reforms toward an open market may face delays as policy makers shift focus toward stimulating a slowing economy instead.

Across the Sham Chun River, Hong Kong doesn't just face turmoil from protests against Beijing's political control of the special administrative region. It also faces concerns that it will lose its relevance as the gateway to the mainland as the market there opens to foreign investment as well as concerns about the city's aging population and shrinking labor pool.

Within Southeast Asia, Indonesia has cut its expensive fuel subsidies and aims to shift the funds toward much-needed infrastructure, but the country's bureaucratic roadblocks and high corruption means it struggles to attract foreign investment.

Thailand's economy has struggled since a coup d'état in May last year hurt investor confidence and weighed on the key tourism sector. Declining exports and the slow pace of planned infrastructure spending are pressuring the military government, which hasn't yet set a timetable for a promised return to democracy.

Oil's plunge

A second key theme is the surprise more than 50 percent drop in the price of oil since the middle of last year, spreading disinflation across the globe. Even with prices already at levels last seen in 2009 during the Global Financial Crisis, many analysts expect crude to get even cheaper – possibly as low as $20 a barrel – amid few signs that U.S. oil production growth is slowing.

Disruptive technology

Companies around the globe face the possibility that technology will make not just their products, but potentially also their industries irrelevant, with one-time household names like Blockbuster and Kodak disappearing from view. It's a process that's happening ever faster, with a recent Citigroup report noting that it took the telephone 75 years to reach 50 million users, but Angry Birds only 35 days.

Fossil fuels also face potential disruption, as the takeup of renewable energy picks up.

Europe Uncertainty

Europe's turgid economy continues to weigh on global growth. The European Central Bank (ECB) has embarked on a trillion-euro quantitative-easing program in hopes of kick starting an anemic economy beset by disinflation. At the same time, talks over Greece's bailout program are becoming antagonistic, spurring fresh concerns that Greece may exit the euro, a scenario dubbed Grexit. All of that has sent the euro to 12-year lows.

U.S. interest rates

The U.S. Federal Reserve is widely expected to raise interest rates sometime this year, spurring concerns the economy there could slow sharply or the already strong greenback could get even stronger.

Some, like hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, fear the rate hike could send markets into a tailspin, similar to 1937 when the central bank tightened policy under the belief that the downturn arising from the 1929 Great Depression was over, but its actions tipped the country back into a recession.

But the outcome of Wednesday's meeting appeared to persuade markets that the Fed will remain relatively dovish. The Fed statement removed the word "patient," suggesting the days of the zero interest rate policy may be numbered, but officials also pared their rate hike forecasts to a longer and slower trajectory.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1