Global Investing

Frontier markets: safe haven for stability seekers

Frontier markets have an air of adventure and unpredictability about them. One is tempted to ask: Who knows what will happen next?

The figures tell a different story.

In fact, emerging markets overtook frontier markets in terms of volatility of returns as long ago as June 2006, as a recent HSBC report shows. And a more significant milestone was passed a year later, in June 2007, when even developed markets overtook frontier markets in terms of volatility of returns.

Since then, frontier markets have without fail stayed more stable than developed and emerging markets. In 2012, the gap between the closely-correlated developed/emerging markets bloc and frontier markets widened even further as returns in the latter seem to be becoming even more stable. According to David Wickham, EM investment director at HSBC Global Asset Management:

Low correlations across frontier market countries, and indeed with commodity prices, can surprisingly result in low volatility. While it may sound counterintuitive, the volatility of frontier markets can, in fact, be less than emerging and developed markets.  One needs to have a truly global approach in order to reap these potential low cross-country correlation benefits.

What is meant by a low cross-country correlation is that a frontier market such as Kenya is less likely to be impacted by a blow-up in, say, Hungary or even another frontier market such as Nigeria. That makes FM  less prone to swings.

Can domestic demand boost African markets? Duet’s Salami talks to Reuters Television

Direct and indirect foreign investors fled from Africa as the credit crisis sparked a flight to safety, or at least familiarity, but Ayo Salami, manager of the Duet Victoire Africa Index fund believes domestic demand can step in to underpin growth.

The final frontier market

As a fallout in emerging markets — once hailed as a safe-haven from the global financial crisis — gathers pace, asset managers are scrambling for newer markets.

What about North Korea? The Stalinist country boasts large untapped natural resources with deposits of gold, coal, zinc and other minerals. It has virtually no capital markets and its banks are all state-owned — making it a true safe haven from the global financial crisis.

The communist state has a good logistics route. It has borders with China, Russia and of course South Korea and a short sea route to Japan. South Korean firms such as Hyundai and LG already invest in the North.