Last updated: 03:34 / Thursday, 2 September 2021
HSBC Survey

Emerging Market Investors Wait for the Right Moment to Deploy Cash

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  • Around 45% of investors polled have in excess of 5% of their portfolios in cash and 59% don’t expect to deploy it over the next three months
  • Half of investors are neutral on the prospects for EM countries over the next three months, although 40% are now bullish
  • A clear majority (56%) still expect to see higher policy rates across EM countries and 40% of respondents expect EM FX to appreciate against the US dollar

Emerging market (EM) investors are holding high levels of cash in their portfolios, waiting for markets to stabilize before investing in higher-yielding assets, according to HSBC. Its latest quarterly EM Sentiment Survey found that 45% of investors polled have in excess of 5% of their portfolios in cash and 59% don’t expect to deploy it over the next three months.

“Emerging market investors are waiting for the right time to invest because the markets have been gyrating wildly over the past two months. Only last month, the US Federal Reserve turned more hawkish and the focus was on rate rises and tapering and this month the pendulum has swung completely the other way as investors worry about the continued impact of COVID on growth”, said Murat Ulgen, Global Head of EM Research at the firm.

The survey -the fifth of its kind in a series first launched in June 2020- was conducted between 8 June 2021 and 23 July 2021 among 124 investors from 119 institutions representing 506 billion dollars of EM assets under management.

The poll shows that around half of investors are neutral on the prospects for EM countries over the next three months, although 40% are now bullish, up from 34% in the first quarter of the year. Risk appetite (measured on a scale from 0 to 10 where 10 means the greatest willingness to take risk) also rose modestly to 6.17 from 6.04

EM investors are, however, becoming less optimistic on the growth outlook for EM countries over the next 12 months and have, therefore, also downgraded their inflation expectations. The proportion who are optimistic on growth dropped to 60% in the most recent survey, down from 89% at the end of last year, and those expecting inflation to rise dropped to 59% from 77% at the end of the first quarter.

Rates, the biggest concern

Nevertheless, a clear majority of investors (56%) still expect to see higher policy rates across EM countries with many central banks, including those of Brazil, Russia, Hungary and Mexico, already having hiked rates in 2021. “The feeling among investors is that while the growth outlook is dimmer and inflation is less of a concern than at the beginning of the year, EM countries will continue to hike rates because they are trying to pre-empt Fed tightening and avoid a repeat of the taper tantrum we saw in 2013-2014,” commented Ulgen.

The prospect of tightening by the US Federal Reserve was cited by more respondents as a concern than any other issue, ahead of inflation and COVID-19. This is encouraging investors to focus on economies with rapid rate increases. In this sense, Ulgen pointed out that when you fear that global rates are going to rise, "you’re going to be looking for a higher risk premium to invest in the emerging markets as insulation against tapering".

With expectations for further rate rises in EM countries, 40% of survey respondents expect EM FX to appreciate against the US dollar, up from 22% in April. Those expectations tend to be most bullish in countries that are frontloading rate hikes, notably Russia and Brazil. Similarly, the poll results suggest investors are seeking a higher risk premium in fixed income as well, citing Russia (22% of the total), Nigeria (13% of the total) and South Africa (12% of the total) as the top three markets with a more favourable outlook in local currency debt.

While Asia remains the most favoured investment destination, the net sentiment has declined as investors are focusing on countries that are benefitting from the rise in commodity prices, including Latin America, Middle East and Africa.

Lastly, engagement with environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing continues to rise, with 45% of respondents now running an ESG portfolio either directly indirectly, up from 30% in June 2020. Climate change, inequality, and minority shareholder protection remain the top three ESG concerns respectively.

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