Investors in Asia keep faith in EM funds as other buyers flee amid rout

themorningglory | Getty Images

Amid a global market rout, investors in Asia appear to have stronger nerves than their counterparts around the world, with indications they're adding to their emerging markets holdings.

The Institute of International Finance (IIF) said Asia-based investors were actually net buyers of emerging market (EM) securities funds, investing about $3.85 billion since the start of the year, after pulling out around $14.6 billion last year.

"This was mainly driven by investors in China, Korea and Thailand," while Japanese investors have been net sellers of around $800 million worth of investments in EM securities funds, the global financial industry association said.

Asian investors have also been net buyers of mature market securities so far this year, to the tune of around $8 billion, the IIF said. But overall, they've sold about $500 million worth of mature market bonds, while buying about $300 million of EM bonds so far this year, the IIF said.

That runs counter to indicators from other regions.

For one, UBS, one of the world's largest wealth managers with as much as $2 trillion under management, has taken a bath on the business recently, with the wealth management segment's profits falling about 40 percent in the last three months of 2015.

Surprising analysts, UBS reported net outflows of 3.4 billion Swiss francs ($3.5 billion) from the segment, with the Swiss bank citing low client activity levels. Outflows were seen predominantly from European and EM-based clients.

There are some other signs that Asia's investors might be staying the course despite the global market rout.

While some Asian investors are pulling away from risky assets, such as stocks, "there are some higher risk-natured clients who believe this is a good opportunity," a Singapore-based wealth manager with a Chinese bank told CNBC by email last week.

"However, they are staying on the side to watch on, hoping for a cheaper valuation or cheaper entry level."

Others, though, said Asia investors had become slightly more cautious on risky assets.

"There has been some pull back and some raising of cash in portfolios just as a precautionary measure," Steve Davies, CEO at Javelin Wealth Management, said before the Chinese New Year holiday. "We've certainly done that, although I view this as a medium-term tactical approach, and one which will see us reinvesting ahead of what we're currently expecting should be a better second half."

He said he suspected investors making use of leverage at private banks would be more sensitive to market fluctuations and therefore more likely to be selling risky assets.

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