Challenging investment conditions had a clear impact on the assets under management of Asia's 300 biggest institutional investors, with AUM 6% down from the year before, falling from $36.6 trillion to $34.4 trillion, according to AsianInvestor's annual AI300 survey.

This year marked the first time since the research project began in 2003 that the overall asset number had fallen.

Looking behind the headline numbers, we have analysed the top 10 asset owners by country, where they have a sufficiently large number of big institutions to justify a separate list. Certain countries – such as Indonesia, Korea, the Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan – saw positive growth among the top 10 institutions. 

Subscribers to AsianInvestor magazine have exclusive access to the full AI300 list and our breakdown of the numbers by country and sector. Here is a snapshot of the country data.

Asian countries by Top 10 asset owners
  2016 AUM ($m) 2015 AUM ($m) % change
Australia 1,181,907 1,378,160 -6
China 11,300,380 11,754,776 -3.8
Hong Kong 1,214,975 1,145,127 0.00008
India 1,145,413 1,147,101 0.0
Indonesia 195,617 181,826 +7
Japan 6,919,497 7,349,600 -5.8
Malaysia 449,979 466,606 -3.4
Philippines 185,892 176,085 +5.2
Singapore 1,232,471 1,191,928 +3.2
South Korea 1,893,909 1,841,876 +2.7
Taiwan 1,121,799 1,082,328 +3.5

Note: Most figures are to December 2015 or March 2016, though some vary from that

The bigger they are...

The larger markets fared the worst in terms of the shift in AUM, with Australia, China and Japan all in negative territory. And looking behind the aggregate numbers, the largest institutions in every country (including those that posted positive growth in the table above) all saw negative returns.

In Indonesia, for example, while the overall total was actually up 7%, this positive growth was recorded by smaller banks, out of the total of seven Indonesian institutions in the top 300. Bank Indonesia, the central bank and by far the largest investing institution in the country, saw its assets fall by 6.4%. This drop was attributable to declining foreign exchange reserves last year and declining oil and gas prices in the past 18 months.

The survey’s perennial number one-ranked institution, the People’s Bank of China, saw its assets tumble by some 15% in dollar terms. This particular decline comes as little surprise given Beijing's unprecedented intervention last year in response to the stock market plunge that started in June. Chinese authorities deployed an estimated $750 billion in stimulus to the market last year, as well as imposing measures aimed at stablising stock prices.

A 5.8% fall in Japan’s top 10 investors resulted in Japan Post Bank suffering the most notable drop at in the AI300 ranking, falling from second to fifth position. JPB’s assets fell 7%, in part due to currency shifts but also because its deposits are mainly in Japanese government bonds, where yields are now very low, and negative in some cases.

The aggregate decline of 3.4% for the top 10 Malaysian institutions' AUM incorporates particularly sharp drops for some individual organisations, including local banks Maybank (-12.6%) and CIMB (-16.3%) and state pension fund Khazanah Nasional (-16.1%). Khazanah’s local-currency investment portfolio declined by -1.2% in 2015 but ringgit weakening heavily exacerbated the declines.

Singapore's 10 biggest asset owners posted a healthy +3.2% asset growth, although the largest investor, GIC (ranked 25 in the list) saw fairly flat asset growth. With growth having stalled, the state fund is now reviewing its asset allocation.

Korea's top 10 investors recorded a 2.7% AUM rise last year, with its biggest retirement fund, National Pension Service, growing by 4%. Taiwan's biggest state investor also showed modest positive growth, with Central Bank of China adding 3.45% to its asset value and insurance giant Cathay Life posting a 9.3% gain.