Global Investing

Emerging markets: to buy or not to buy

To buy or not to buy — that’s the question facing emerging market investors.

The sector is undoubtedly cheap –  equity valuations are 30-50 percent cheaper than their 10-year average on a price-book basis; currencies have depreciated 15-20 percent in the space of 4 months and local bond yields have surged by an average 150 basis points. As we have pointed out before, cheapness is relative and the slowing economic and credit growth in many countries will undoubtedly manifest itself in falling EPS growth. Companies that cannot pass on high input costs caused by weak currencies, will have to take a further margin squeeze.

But many analysts have in recent days changed their recommendations on the sector. Barclays for instance notes:

 Value has been created in EM local (debt) markets and the bulk of the global rates repricing should be behind us. 

 At Morgan Stanley they write:

Improved valuations and carry as well as signs of positive export growth momentum support emerging currencies near term.

Tapping India’s diaspora to salvage rupee

What will save the Indian rupee? There’s an election next year so forget about the stuff that’s really needed — structural reforms to labour and tax laws, easing business regulations and scrapping inefficient subsidies. The quickest and most effective short-term option may be a dollar bond issued to the Indian diaspora overseas which could boost central bank coffers about $20 billion.

The option was mooted a month ago when the rupee’s slide started to get into panic territory but many Indian policymakers are not so keen on the idea

So what are the merits of a diaspora bond (or NRI bond as it’s known in India)?

Russia — the one-eyed emerging market among the blind

It’s difficult to find many investors who are enthusiastic about Russia these days. Yet it may be one of the few emerging markets  that is relatively safe from the effects of “sudden stops” in foreign investment flows.

Russia’s few fans always point to its cheap valuations –and these days Russian shares, on a price-book basis, are trading an astonishing 52 percent below their own 10-year history, Deutsche Bank data shows.  Deutsche is sticking to its underweight recommendation on Russia but notes that Russia has:

“become so unpopular with the investor community that it is a candidate for the ‘it’s so bad it’s good’ club as evidenced by the very cheap valuations and long-term  underperformance.

Emerging markets funds shun Brazil, South Africa

Global emerging markets equity funds have cut average weightings to Brazil and South Africa for the fourth straight quarter, according to the latest allocations data from fund research firm Lipper.

You can see a full interactive graphic of the allocations data here or by clicking on the snapshot below.

The average allocation to Brazil has fallen by 1.75 percentage points over the past year to stand at 11.6 percent of portfolios by the end of the April-June 2013 quarter. South Africa’s average weighting has fallen to 6.0 percent from 7.3 percent in the second quarter of 2012.

BRIC shares? At the right price

Is the price right? Many reckon that the sell off in emerging markets and growing disenchantment with the developing world’s growth story is lending fresh validity to the value-based investing model.

That’s especially so for the four BRIC economies, where shares have underperformed for years thanks either to an over-reliance on commodities, excessive valuations conferred by a perception of fast growth or simply dodgy corporate governance. Now with MSCI’s emerging equity index down 30 percent from 2007 peaks, prices are looking so beaten down that some players, even highly unlikely ones, are finding value.

Societe Generale’s perma-bear Albert Edwards is one. Okay, he still calls the bloc Bloody Ridiculous Investment Concept but he reckons that share valuations are inching into territory where some buying might just be justified. Edwards notes that it was ultra-cheap share valuations in the early 2000s that set the stage for the sector’s stellar gains over the following decade, rather than any turbo-charged economic growth rates. So if MSCI’s emerging equity index is trading around 10 times forward earnings, that’s a 30 percent discount to the developed index, the biggest in a very long time. And valuations are lower still in Russia and Brazil.

Chinese inflation – unreported retail

China’s inflation print for June at 2.7 percent, a four-month high, was higher than forecast, but part of the picture could be obfuscated by a lack of accounting for the ever-growing online retail sector.

Gross domestic product figures have been consistently revised down this year from 8 percent to around 7.4 percent by July, with significant doubt over the reliability of official data. Some analysts forecast the more likely GDP print is around 5 percent, given the lack of punishment for falsifying local data and incentives for better growth figures for regional prints.

With an increasing share of shopping carried out online through websites such as Taobao, Tmall and Paipai, there is an increasing argument for online retail numbers -which had lifted one metric of inflation  closer to 7 percent in April –  to be included in the headline CPI. That metric is the retail sector’s internet shopping price index (iSPI).

Route 312 – China’s Route 66

The world’s largest car market, China, with a population of 1.3 billion people and an emerging middle class, holds great potential for investors and consumers alike with annual growth rates in the auto sector expected to hold at around 23 percent to 2017, according to Alliance Bernstein Asset Managers.

Joint ventures (JV), the most popular structure for foreign firms investing in the automobile sector in the world’s largest car market, are set to capitalise on a growing consumer base in a country with 3.3 million kilometres of asphalt. Traversing the so-called ‘mother’ road 312 (China’s route 66) is becoming more of an attainable dream for the Chinese consumer.

VW has a JV with Changchun-based FAW, Dongfeng with Nissan, GAC with Toyota and  Honda. There are many investment opportunities, though a constantly changing sectoral environment and risks of mechanical recalls can cause sharp fluctuations as in any market, according to Bernstein Research, a subsidiary of Alliance Bernstein holdings.

“Contrarian” Deutsche (a bit) less bearish on emerging stocks

For an investor in emerging equities the best strategy in recent years has been to take a contrarian stance, says John-Paul Smith at Deutsche Bank.

Smith, head of emerging equity strategy at Deutsche, has been bearish on emerging stocks since 2010, exactly the time when bucketloads of new cash was being committed to the asset class. Investors who heeded his advice back then would have been in the money — since end-2010 emerging equities have underperformed U.S. equities by almost 40 percent, Smith pointed out a couple of months ago.

Things have worsened since then and MSCI’s emerging equity index is down around 12 percent year-to-date, almost the level of loss that Deutsche had predicted for the whole of 2013. June outflows from emerging stock funds, according to EPFR Global last week, were the largest on record. But true to form, Smith says he is no longer totally bearish on emerging equities.  Maybe the presence or absence of those he calls “marginal international investors” — people who joined the EM party too late and are quick to take fright — is key. Many of these positions appear to have been cleaned out. Short positions or high cash balances dominate the books of dedicated players,  Smith writes:

Brazil grinds out a result

The South Americans are dominating possession. And it’s not only on the football pitch.

Net flows at Brazilian equity mutual funds have been positive for 11 out of the 12 months to end-May, according to estimates from Lipper, leading to total net inflows over the period of about $13 billion. That stands in stark contrast to the other three BRIC emerging market powerhouses.

China equity funds have waved goodbye to almost £3 billion in that time, Russia a similar amount and India $4 billion. India equity funds have seen 12 straight months of net outflows, Russia 10 out of 12 and China nine out of 12. The graphic below makes the trend clear, with Brazil the only BRIC to show net inflows to equity funds in eight of the 12 months examined. (A brief note on India: the reporting timetable of locally-domiciled funds means that these numbers are largely from funds based outside the country, which account for about half of assets)

A drop in the ocean or deluge to come?

Glass half full or half empty? For emerging markets watchers, it’s still not clear.

Last month was a record one in terms of net outflow for funds dedicated to emerging equities, Boston-based agency EPFR Global said.  Debt funds meanwhile saw a $5.5 billion exodus in the week to June 26, the highest in history .

These sound like big numbers, but in fact they are relatively small. EM equity funds tracked by EPFR  have now reversed all the bumper year-to-date inflow registered by end-May, but what of all the flows they have received in the preceding boom decade?