John Stopford, co-head of Investec Asset Management’s multi-asset team, discusses the potential to add emerging market exposure from an income perspective.
The last decade saw a number of key developments which helped emerging markets to deliver exceptionally strong returns. These included the rise of China as a leading economic power, the consequent commodity bull market, the Global Financial Crisis, a surge in capital flows supported by low interest rates and money printing in the developed world which led to a reassessment of the relative risks of emerging market investments.
More recently, the gloss has come off the developing world. Equities, bonds and currencies have all underperformed their developed market counterparts, in some cases dramatically. China has gone from being the main driver of growth to the epicentre of investor's fears about the sustainability of Emerging Market outperformance. Investor inflows have turned to outflows as growing pessimism has replaced rampant optimism.
So, was the last decade a short-lived boom, or do emerging markets represent an enduring investment opportunity?
Emerging market investing was not just a passing fad, but an enduring opportunity, albeit with setbacks along the way
Our belief is firmly the latter. Developing economies are engaged in a multi-generational process of convergence with the developed world. Not all economies will make it, but the progress of the last 25 years has been staggering, and the aspirations of billions of people in a much more open global society seem likely to provide a powerful impetus for further development.
This process has never been a straight line. There have been plenty of crises and setbacks along the way, although encouragingly these have often acted as a spur to necessary reform. It is generally hard to make difficult decisions in good times, but greater challenges have tended to focus the minds of policymakers. The current period is no different. Last year's plenum in China, for example, puts it on a much more sustainable medium-term footing, even if implementation is not without its challenges. We think similarly, wide-ranging reforms in Mexico bode well for growth and inward investment.
The global environment is likely to be less helpful for emerging markets in the next few years than over the previous decade, but market pricing has already adjusted significantly to reflect this. Yields have risen sharply in bond markets, also equities and currencies have declined, materially, taking many markets to what we think are cheap levels.
In an income context, we see benefits to adding emerging market exposure
In an income context, we see opportunities to add emerging market exposure. Yields on many bonds look increasingly competitive in an absolute sense and on a relative basis against alternatives such as high yield, which appears pretty fully priced. For example, Brazilian three year bonds paying almost 13% price in a pretty downbeat future. Emerging market equities and related securities also offer good opportunities, although pay-out rates make them less compelling in many cases for income-seeking buyers. Global mining stocks, however, are a variant on the theme, with pretty decent yields.
Markets have sold-off to reflect a more challenging environment and now offer attractive yields – but selectivity is required across markets
Some selectivity is required because not all emerging markets and securities are created equal, especially if some of the drivers of the last 10 years have lost their power. We believe, however, that it is better to buy markets when they are less popular and cheap than when they are everyone's favourite holding. The shift towards pessimism across emerging markets suggests that investors should be looking to add exposure, even if it is too soon to go ‘all in’. In addition, a belief that developed economies can decouple from problems in the developing world are probably almost as misplaced as they were the other way around.