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Devil or angel?

In the face of the most volatile markets in many people’s working lives, investors in the west are looking for safe havens away from New York and London. Is Asia the answer? Some market players think so. “There is something very special about Asia,” says one. Others label the region a perennial basket case. Who’s right?

Shell-shocked and confused equity investors are desperately looking for a shelter for the cash they were able to grab as they scrambled out of the turmoil of the US and European markets. Treasuries would seem the most obvious safe haven, Asia's equity markets perhaps less so. But for some these are desperate times. And with their home markets slumping to levels they have never seen before many say that they are considering all the alternatives.

The more confident fund managers and equity strategists willing to put their heads above the parapet claim that they are definitely Asia focused. They point out that its markets have outperformed the rest of the world. Year to date, Asia Pacific ex-Japan is still up around 4%, although down 10% since May 17.

That's in sharp contrast to the way in which the steady decline over the past 18 months in the European and US equity markets turned into a tailspin. From May 17 to the end of July the S&P500, for example, slumped 24% as investors clambered out of the equity markets. And after six weeks of remorseless selling nobody appears willing to step forward and predict when the carnage will end.

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