North Asia’s PMI is not only in contraction territory (ie below 50) but has also weakened compared with September last year. In contrast, Southeast Asia’s PMI is mostly in the expansion zone and has shown improvements from four months ago. (An exception is Malaysia).
India, which recently revised higher their GDP growth estimates for the last two financial years, has seen its manufacturing PMI rising the most over the past four months to record the highest reading in the region. This North-South divergence is consistent with the greater reliance of North Asia on China through their supply chains, compared with the rest of the region.
Another reason to believe Southeast Asian economies could prove to be more resilient is their continued attractiveness as a destination for inward foreign direct investment (FDI).
According to preliminary global FDI flows data for 2018 released by UNCTAD, total FDI inflows fell for the third year in a row to $US1.2 trillion. The decline was mainly due to developed economies. FDI flows into developing economies increased, with ASEAN being the main FDI growth engine where inflows increased by 11 per cent to $US145 billion, a new record high.
FDI flows into ASEAN exceeded that going into China. Singapore accounted for 53 per cent of the overall FDI flows into ASEAN at $US77 billion. FDI into Indonesia stayed robust at USD21bn while Thailand saw a second consecutive year of increase in inflows to USD11bn. Full year estimates for Vietnam are not yet available but should record the third largest FDI flows in ASEAN behind Singapore and Indonesia.
The FDI data show ASEAN remains an attractive destination despite the trade tensions between the US and China. There is the potential for Southeast Asia to benefit from a shift in manufacturing supply chains out of China, even if a trade deal were to be struck.