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India, Indonesia and Thailand to outperform Asia in 2017

When it comes to Asia's growth outlook, the south still reigns supreme. India, Indonesia and Thailand are seen as the region's best performers of 2017 thanks to healthy fundamentals, economists told CNBC.

An external backdrop of tighter monetary policy in the United States—the Federal Reserve is expected to hike interest rates three times this year—and slowing global trade in anticipation of a protectionist stance from Washington also works in the favor of these three nations.

"Export-dependent economies such as Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and even China are unlikely to see a rebound this year. Our advice is to look at locally-driven economies like India and Indonesia, where debt levels are relatively low, there's positive credit impulse and strong domestic consumption," said Frederic Neumann, managing director and co-head of Asian economics research at HSBC.

While the bank retains a cautious view on Asia's overall outlook, warning that regional growth will likely to slow at the margin in 2017 rather than accelerate, these three countries are still seen as a bright spot.

Indonesian women sell their harvest in a traditional floating market on the Martapura river in Lok Baintan, South Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Jefri Tarigan / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images
Indonesian women sell their harvest in a traditional floating market on the Martapura river in Lok Baintan, South Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Thailand's benchmark SET index was Asia's second-best performer last year, up 20 percent, boosted by the recovery in oil prices since 35 percent of the stock market is leveraged towards oil, pointed out Kelvin Tay, regional chief investment officer for southern APAC at UBS.

Investors were also relieved that Thailand's monarchy succession ended up being a benign and steady process, noted Vishnu Varathan, senior economist at Mizuho Bank. In October, fears were widespread that the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and subsequent mourning period would result in a power struggle and spark both economic and political damage.

Meanwhile, the Indian and Indonesian currencies, which suffered wild swings against the greenback in 2013 when the U.S. central bank first indicated it would hike rates, are now predicted to be relatively stable even as the Fed tightens its taps. Neither the rupiah or the rupee will see a re-run of 2013's taper tantrums this year, predicted Neumann.


Game-changing tax reforms in both countries also made both nations a favorite among investors. Indonesian President Joko Widodo launched a tax amnesty program in July last year that collected around $7.7 billion in government revenue as of Dec. 20, a major coup for the leader's plans to ramp up infrastructure spending. Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's demonetization program that began in November is also aimed at widening state coffers and promoting digital payments.

Wellian Wiranto, economist at OCBC, was particularly bullish on Indonesia, Southeast Asia's largest economy.

"Its domestic consumption serves as an important buffer [to external risks]. While its relatively shallow financial markets mean that it remains a hostage to global capital flows volatility, policymakers have exhibited commendable finesse in preserving currency stability without resorting to measures that might spook markets."

Furthermore, investment growth, a key indicator of economic health, is set to tick up to 5.6 percent this year, from 4.5 percent in 2016, according to DBS.

Ultimately, the biggest factor that could weigh on Asia's outlook is how Chinese demand holds up, warned Varathan.

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