Institutional investors seeking EM equities – report

The appetite for emerging market equities among institutional investors is reaching a period high, according to a report by Clear Path Analysis.

Investors are said to be looking further afield from the uncertainty gripping the eurozone and other developed markets that offer limited growth potential.
Institutional asset owner groups are being tempted by the equity markets in emerging markets such as South Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, South East Asia and South America.

Complementing this increase in investor interest, emerging market central banks and governments are said to be progressively responding to calls for responsible fiscal and monetary responsibility.

Archie Hart, portfolio manager at Investec Asset Management, outlines the main differences between emerging and frontier markets thus: “Emerging markets typically have stronger political and corporate governance over time, and this reduces your risk. Additionally liquidity is much higher than before. Emerging markets are generally democracies and relatively stable ones. The obvious exception to this is China but, although it is not a democracy, it has been relatively stable with the same government in power for roughly 50 years.”

However, Hart warns against an overly simplistic top-down focus on country GDP growth when investing in emerging markets: “Economic growth can be a driver of emerging market equity returns; however we would also maintain that the issue is significantly more complex than that. Emerging market equity returns are a product of a number of different drivers. In a complex and ever-changing world, what is necessary for investment success is a bottom-up focus on stock selection.”

Nonetheless, he observes that: “We are steering towards Asian markets such as Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia because these economies have grown at roughly 5% per annum over the last ten years. They also have current account surpluses, good formal exchanges and low public debt. In terms of sectors, we are looking at the Chinese auto market, Asian casinos, healthcare and pharmaceutical as well as data and smartphones. For example, Samsung and Apple combined have 90% of the profit pool in the smartphone market.”

Dominic Scriven, CEO at Dragon Capital, is also looking towards Asia as a key point of interest for investment: “The region offers a compelling mix of consumer-industrial and resource plays, given its geographic diversification and low entry points. Vietnam in particular is undergoing a very active new phase of reform to stabilise the economy and prevent the overheating woes of the past. This points to a significant turnaround in its economic fortunes that is expected to re-engage the country’s still-powerful growth drivers: ideal demographics, a large low cost but increasingly skilled labour force, a strong work ethic, political stability and ongoing foreign direct investment.”

Meanwhile Sean Fitzgibbon, senior managing director at The Boston Company warns against investors expecting too much from emerging markets: “People are looking to see improved stability and growth within EMs but unfortunately investors are going to be somewhat disappointed. Now there are going to be shorter economic cycles and more dispersion of the economic trends in the various countries. This is in part because of the actions of the developed world with things such as quantitative easing, creating inflation and disrupting the normal economic cycle of EMs.”

Echoing Archie Hart, he also lists Thailand and the Philippines, along with Colombia and Peru, as two of the countries with the best opportunities and economic trends: “Long term, India has the best opportunity, but they cannot seem to get their act together. It is important to look at frontier markets because this will be the next area of growth. The Middle East will probably be our first foray and, although they are not yet incorporated into our strategy, we have begun researching companies in this location. As an investor you want to make sure you are in there early.”

However a recent report from Schroders Asset Management, highlights frontier markets as providing investors access to some of the most dynamic and fastest-growing economies in the world supported by strong secular growth drivers.

Schroders says that the frontier markets offer investment opportunities that are getting less risky as market liberalisation accelerates and valuations look attractive in absolute terms versus the developed and emerging worlds.

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