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From best to worst: A 2020 winner in stock market is now the biggest loser

Health care is Asia's worst-performing sector this year

Asia economy | global stock market | Healthcare sector

Moxy Ying & Youkyung Lee | Bloomberg 

Asian economy
A fading retail frenzy in markets like South Korea has also played a role in the health care sector’s recent weakness.

While technology stocks continue to front Asia’s equity rally, one hot sect­o­r from 2020 has fallen to the bottom of the leaderboard: health care.

Essentially flat year-to-date, a gauge of the sector is the worst-performing in Asia, lagging the region’s benchmark by nine percentage points. It is on track to underperform the MSCI Asia Pacific Index for a third straight month, the longest losing streak in three years.

A growing expectation of a return to normal for the global economy has caused investors to abandon defensive bets made during the pandemic, such as health care -- the second-best performer last year. Energy shares have staged a comeback on the rebound in crude prices, while financials have strengthened thanks to the rise in bond yields. “The market is reflecting re-opening and recovery expectations, which is supportive of cyclical sectors rather than health care,” said Kieran Calder, head of Asia equity research at Union Bancaire Privee Ubp SA.

Hefty valuations are also a concern, according to Calder. The industry gauge is trading just below 30 times forward earnings, the highest among all sectors, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The benchmark is on just 18 times.


Fading Retail Frenzy

A fading retail frenzy in like South Korea has also played a role in the health care sector’s recent weakness. Shin Poong Pharmaceutical Co., a company that is developing a Covid-19 treatment, has slumped 36 per cent this year after amateur investors helped it surge 1,600 per cent in 2020. Celltrion Pharma, another vaccine-related stock, has fallen 32 per cent after rallying more than 500 per cent last year. “One of the prominent features of the South Korean stock market is retail investors actively trading stocks and strong herd behavior,” said Seo Sang-Young, a market strategist at Kiwoom Securities. “Unless there is additional events or earnings improvements, such as new drug developments for pharma or bio companies, stocks tend to go back to where they came from.”

Teflon Tech

Conversely, strength in technology stocks has extended into the new year, with a gauge of communication services names the top winner in Asia.

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First Published: Tue, February 23 2021. 02:31 IST