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Indonesian economy becomes a 'standout' among emerging markets

Indonesian rupiah
Romeo Gacad | AFP | Getty Images
Indonesian rupiah

There's more to Asia's vast economy than just China and Singapore, both linchpins of regional growth.

Indonesia is slowly but surely cementing a reputation as a standout in the global economy, aided by a strong domestic economy and a government embracing pro-market reforms. With that in mind, the country recently saw its strongest growth in more than three years.

"Indonesia has been one of the stronger performing EM countries this year outside of countries like Brazil," Clayton Fresk, portfolio manager at Stadion Money Management, which is based in Watkinsville, Georgia, and manages nearly $4 billion in assets, told CNBC recently.

"After experiencing a stable decline in [growth] since 2010 through mid-2015, that trend has reversed and the country is seeing small improvements in that reading over the past year," Fresk added, with employment on the rise and interest rates on the wane.

As China's slowing growth spills over into other developing economies in the region, Indonesia is gravitating above the turmoil. Earlier this year, the International Monetary Fund's mission chief for Indonesia gave the government credit for its economic competence, and expects its economy to grow by 5 percent this year.

Analysts say Indonesia's success is all the more impressive as major economies around the world continue to hew to loose monetary policies — which haven't gotten them much bang for their buck — and developing economies struggle.

"Against this backdrop it is hard to find structural and sustainable growth stories," Smriti Shekhar, portfolio manager with NN Investment Partners' equity markets group told CNBC in a recent interview.

Indonesia's vast population exhibits favorable demographics such as high life expectancy and fertility rates. Investors also like growth prospects, fiscal discipline and relatively low inflation of around 3-5 percent, making the country what Shekhar calls a "standout as an attractive market."

Indonesia's reform credentials have also stood out in 2016 with a new government, improved economic fundamentals, tax reform and the appointment of a credible new finance minister who was a former IMF official.

Foreign investors have lapped up Indonesian bonds at a very high rate — at least 40 percent, according to recent data — underscoring how the country's relative attractiveness, but stoking concerns with the country's officials. In a research note to clients this week, Bank of America-Merrill Lynch recommended maintaining exposure to long-dated Indonesian debt, based on "a supportive stance from global central banks" boosting the attractiveness of emerging government bonds.


Dimas Ardian | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A new tax amnesty plan rolled out in July is enhancing the reputation of the government of President Joko Widodo for solid management — and reaping it a windfall in tax revenue. Thus far, the amount collected has exceeded $350 billion, or about 9 percent of the total targeted by Indonesia's central bank.

"Given the current pace, overseas repatriated assets could reach $10 billion or above as the scheme is completed next year," Anthony Chan, Hong Kong-based Asian sovereign strategist at AB told CNBC recently.

That amount "would represent a very significant capital inflow into the country to support the Indoneisan rupiah," the country's currency, he added.


Indonesia's young and vibrant population is another reason why investors see upside, especially when compared to the aging societies of the West and Japan.

Approximately 67 percent of Indonesia's population is between 15 and 64 years old, according to World Bank data, putting the country's average age at less than 30.

Although growth per capita is lower than that of China and neighboring Malaysia, a young aspirational middle class could provide a long runway for growth within the country.

Consumption is key for Indonesia, as well, with analysts citing substantial scope for urbanization and mortgage penetration and providing long-term growth options for many industries. The country also boasts a powerful combination of high savings and investment ratios, key for economic growth.

"While volatility will be a given, we are constructive on the Indonesian market," said NN Investment's Shekhar.