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Fed interest rate hike won’t hurt Asian stocks, investors say

For some investors, talk of higher interest rates in the U.S. rumbling Asian equity markets is so 2013.

Three years ago, emerging market assets tanked after the U.S. Federal Reserve first broached its plan to begin tapering its asset purchases in a period described as a "taper tantrum." This time around, the Fed's clear signals of impending interest rate hikes have largely been shrugged off.

"In the normal run of things you might be thinking that a stronger U.S. dollar is not good news for this region," Graham Harman, senior investment strategist for Asia-Pacific at Russell Investments, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Tuesday. Russell Investments had around $242.26 billion under management at the end of March.

A stronger dollar generally would make it more difficult for many borrowers within Asia to service dollar-denominated debts. Additionally, a strengthening dollar also usually would indicate that funds were flowing out of the region as greenback-denominated assets become more attractive.

But Harman noted that markets have been relatively sanguine.

"We have a situation where in a world of expensive developed markets, in a world where interest rates are sort of zero or negative across the developed world, Asia Pacific and emerging markets are one area where we have positive tailwinds, where inflation is enabling rates to continue to drop from high levels and where price-to-earnings ratios are probably at about a 30 percent discount to the developed world," Harman said. "That's a pretty good start in terms of the investment arithmetic."

Markets have begun pricing in a changing outlook for monetary policy following the Jackson Hole, Wyoming conclave for central bankers held last week.

At the meeting, Fed Chair Janet Yellen's speech opened the door to a September hike when she said the case for a rate increase had strengthened in recent months. Until then, many market players had poo-pooed chances that the Fed would hike this year or next.

Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer further pushed the Fed's September meeting into play when he said in a CNBC interview that Yellen's comments were consistent with a Fed that could hike rates at the Federal Open Market Committee meeting on September 20-21, and potentially a second time this year as well.

But those comments haven't had an adverse impact on markets. Stocks have remained steady while emerging market currencies have largely been on their best behaviour.

The stability witnessed so far is in marked contrast to 2013, when $14.1 billion exited emerging market equity funds, while $14.04 billion said good-bye to the segment's bond funds, according to data from Barclays.

Sat Duhra, portfolio manager for the Asia dividend income strategy at Henderson Global Investors, said that emerging markets were now better placed than in 2013.

"At that point, Asia was not in as good a shape. Politically it was certainly in worse shape," Duhra said, noting as examples that both India and Indonesia faced high inflation expectations and current account deficits.

"Those things have really turned around since then. So the kind of volatility we saw around then is not going to happen at this point," he told CNBC's "Capital Connection" on Tuesday.

Duhra also noted that the Fed had already raised rates once, in December of last year, with markets taking it "reasonably smoothly."

Henderson Global has around $127 billion in assets under management.

Loic Venance | AFP | Getty Images


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