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Equity markets around the world have rallied for most of 2017, giving rise to concerns that stocks are becoming expensive. But the world's largest asset manager, BlackRock, said it is not too late to join the party.
Stock prices in Asia, in particular, still have room to run going into the next year, even though the increase may not match that seen in 2017, the company said Wednesday at its 2018 Asia Investment Outlook.
Asian equities have outperformed other markets so far this year: The MSCI All Country Asia Pacific Index grew 32.6 percent by Oct. 31, topping the 24.1 percent gain that the MSCI All Country World Index fetched during the same period.
"This year has been a rewarding one for stock investors. Anyone who missed the rally probably wonders if it is too late to join the party. We don't believe it is," said Andrew Swan, BlackRock's head of Asian and global emerging markets equities.
The high returns seen in Asian equities, he added, have been led by a better-than-expected and synchronized global economic expansion, which helped companies register better earnings growth — a trend that looks set to continue into 2018.
Asia is a big beneficiary of a continued recovery in the global economy, Swan said. And a weak U.S. dollar, which is not expected to pick up much next year, will add to the region's advantage, he added.
Even though valuations have gone up, they are only "back to multi-year averages" at the moment, compared to other asset classes globally where prices are "on the expensive side versus history," Swan said.
"So Asia still remains cheap relative to history and relative to other asset classes," he said.
Within Asia, BlackRock holds an "overweight" position on China, India and Indonesia. Those are countries where economic reforms are helping to lift growth and earnings prospects. The asset manager also prefers companies — especially those in China — in the "older economy" such as energy, materials and financials.
The technology sector, which has fueled much of the rally this year, is an area that BlackRock said it's cautious about going into 2018. The valuations of selected e-commerce stocks in China and large-cap tech firms in Taiwan, for instance, appear to be stretched, Swan said.
"The biggest structural growth opportunity investors have seen is the IT sector. So up until this point we have seen fairly rational markets where share prices have been going up in line with the fundamentals with the company earnings," Swan said.
"What we are starting to see is a lot more thematic-type movements in stocks instead of [those] driven by fundamentals, which is the most important thing, and we're actually seeing exuberant behavior in some of these companies, which normally is a sign of bubbles starting to emerge," he added.