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'Populist spending' ahead of elections in Asia could boost consumer stocks

Key Points
  • Elections in India, Indonesia and Thailand this year will drive "populist spending" in Asia that may boost consumer stocks, said Corrine Png, regional equities research head at AIA Investment Management.
  • Stimulus packages ahead of those polls will help boost consumer spending, especially in rural areas, DBS bank noted.
There's room for dividend growth in Asia: AIA

A pick-up in spending ahead of several elections in Asia this year will boost the consumer sector even though the region is bracing for slowing growth, an analyst told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Tuesday.

"We do like the theme of populist spending pre-elections," said Corrine Png, regional equities research head at AIA Investment Management — the asset management arm of the Asian life insurer.

Png cited the consumer sector as one of the investment firm's top picks for 2019, even as market consensus has predicted GDP growth for Asia ex-Japan to slow to 5.7 percent. That's in comparison to a 10-year average of about 7 percent for the region, she added.

Large emerging countries such as India, Indonesia and Thailand are due to hold general elections this year, and government stimulus is expected ahead of those polls.

Thailand has lined up a number of schemes including welfare programs to help the poor in utility payments and cash handouts for low-income workers, while the Indonesian government is rolling out cash food aid programs and setting up village funds, according to a Jan. 4 note by DBS Group Research.

Such stimulus will help boost consumer spending, especially in rural areas, DBS noted.

Ann Hermes | The Christian Science Monitor | Getty Images

Expected investments into infrastructure projects in India and Indonesia would also help boost certain sectors, such as the cement and construction industries, said Png from AIA.

Although unexpected election outcomes will be a risk factor for the markets, valuations for stocks are now attractive after last year's market selloff, said Png.

DBS — which is also positive on consumer plays in Indonesia and Thailand ahead of the elections — also pointed out that despite concerns that "any unforeseen and unexpected outcome may create volatility," the bank believes "there are opportunities in the lead up to these events," analysts said in the recent note.

While India is also one of the top picks for Mark Mobius, the prominent investor told CNBC earlier this month he was "very much" concerned that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's economic reforms may take a back seat ahead of the general election. He warned that populist moves by the government could derail reform plans and measures to keep India's fiscal balance in check.