It’s hard to avoid state-run companies if you are investing in emerging markets — after all they make up a third of the main EM equity index, run by MSCI. But should one be avoiding shares in these firms?
After a ghastly 2011, Indian stock markets have’t done too badly this year despite the almost constant stream of bad news from India. They are up 12 percent, slightly outperforming other emerging markets, thanks to fairly cheap valuations (by India’s normally expensive standards) and hopes the central bank might cut rates. But foreign inflows, running at $3 billion a month in the first quarter, have tapered off and the underlying mood is pessimistic. Above all, the worry is how much will India’s once turbo-charged economy slow? With the government seemingly in policy stupor, growth is likely to fall under 7 percent this year. News today added to the gloom — exports fell in March for the first time since the 2009 global crisis.
As may be expected, the crisis has increased the risk of default by emerging market borrowers. According to estimates by ING Bank’s emerging bond guru David Spegel, the default rate on EM bonds is running at over $6 billion in the first four months of 2012, already surpassing the 2011 total of $4.3 billion. He predicts another $1.3 billion of emerging defaults to come this year.
For years the four mighty BRIC nations have grabbed increasing shares of world investment flows. But the coming years may not be so kind. These countries bring up the bottom of the Economic Freedom Index (EFI) for 2012. Compiled by Washington D.C.-based think-tank The Heritage Foundation the EFI measures 10 freedoms — from property rights to entrepreneurship – and according to a note out today from RBS economists, there is a strong positive link between a country’s EFI score and the amount of FDI (foreign direct investment) it can secure. So the more “free” a country, the more FDI inflows it can expect to receive — that’s what an RBS analysis of 2002-2008 investment flows shows.
Over the past year emerging markets have broadly lagged an upswing in global equity markets, yielding cumulative returns of 4.5 percent since last August. That’s less than half the return developed markets have provided (see graphic below).
The FOMC’s relatively anodyne conclusions left world markets with little new to chew on Thursday, with some poor European banking results for Q1 probably get more attention. Broadly, world stocks were a touch higher while the dollar and US Treasury yields were slightly lower. European bank stocks fell 2% and dragged down European indices. Euro sovereign yields were slightly higher, with markets eyeing Friday’s Italian bond auction. Volatility gauges were a touch lower and crude oil prices nudged up.
The European Union has given Budapest the green light to seek aid from the IMF. (see here) In fact, the breakthrough after five months of dispute does not let Hungary completely off the hook — to get its hands on the money, Viktor Orban’s government will have to backtack on some controversial recent legislation, starting with its efforts to curb the central bank’s independence. It remains to be seen if Orban will actually cave in.
Markets have been dominated this week so far by the fallout from Sunday’s French presidential election, where Socialist Francois Hollande now looks set to beat incumbent conservative Nicolas Sarkozy in the May 6 runoff , and the collapse of the ruling Dutch coalition on Monday. Public anxiety about budgetary austerity in Europe was further reinforced by news on Monday of a deepening of the euro zone private sector contraction in April. That said, euro equity, bond and currency prices have stabilised relatively quickly even if implied volatility has increased as investors brace for another month or so of political heat in the single currency bloc. The French runoff is now on the same day as the Greek elections and May 31 sees Ireland going to the polls to vote on the EU’s new fiscal compact. Wall St’s volatility gauge, the ViX, is back up toward 20% — better reflecting longer term averages — and relatively risky assets such as emerging market equities remain on the back foot. The euro political heat and slightly slower Q2 world growth pulse will likely keep markets subdued and jittery until mid year at least. At that point, another cyclical upswing in world manufacturing together with the passing of the EBA’s euro bank recapitalisation deadline as well as the introduction of the new European Stability Mechanism may well encourage investors to return at better levels.
The dust has settled on a scintillating first quarter for emerging markets but the cross-asset rally of the first three months has already run out of steam. A survey by Societe Generale of 69 EM investors shows that over half are bearish — at least for the near-term.
Now that the Fed appears to have dashed any lingering hopes for an imminent QE3, what’s next for emerging markets? Most observers put this year’s stellar performance of emerging bonds, currencies and equities largely down to the various money-printing or cheap money operations in the developed world. That’s kept core government bond yields bumping along near record lows and benefited higher-yielding emerging assets.