Will 2016 Be the Sixth Year of Emerging Market Underperformance?

Emerging markets remain a challenging call principally because of ongoing macro headwinds that suggest little growth improvement for 2016

Andy Brunner 23 December, 2015 | 11:25AM

It has been another very difficult year for emerging market economies, and currencies have naturally been reflected in generally poorly performing equity markets. Indeed, emerging markets have underperformed developed markets by around 14% in dollar terms year to date and for the fifth consecutive year.

There is still scope for downside surprises to growth, debt and currencies, hardly the ideal background for equities

From the peak in October 2010 emerging markets have now declined by nearly 50% compared to developed markets with the relative now back to the levels of 10 year ago.

What are the Chances of a Sixth Successive Year of Underperformance?

Emerging markets remain a challenging call principally because of ongoing macro headwinds that suggest little growth improvement for 2016. US Federal Reserve interest rate rises, a stronger dollar, the likelihood of even lower commodity prices and China’s slowing growth combine with a debt overhang problem that could create further stress as interest costs increase and credit conditions tighten.

There is still scope, therefore, for downside surprises to growth, debt and currencies, hardly the ideal background for equities. Hence, despite the asset class being cheaply rated, many investors will be reluctant to return until signs of a growth reversal become apparent.

With commodity prices remaining lower for longer the effects will continue to be felt in many countries through 2016 and, in particular, developments in Brazil are of growing concern. In contrast, activity in Asia appears to have stabilized but medium term structural headwinds persist with new growth drivers required as the manufacturing export-led model becomes increasingly deficient.

Despite these medium to long term impediments, and perhaps partly because of the markedly negative sentiment towards emerging markets, there is growing interest in emerging markets from contrarian and value investors, many of whom perceive some of the needed adjustment has already occurred. In some ways, much of this background is effectively noise, as the key question for emerging market indices is what is the outlook for Chinese equities?

Through outperformance and the recent addition of US-listed ADR’s, China’s weighting in MSCI emerging markets index will rise to around 26% compared to less than 20% a year ago and could increase further on a decision by MSCI to include China “A” shares at a later date.

The next three largest countries in the index are all in emerging Asia which now accounts for well over 70% of the total. Four years ago, Brazil was battling for top spot but its weight has collapsed to about 6% while that of Russia is only around 3.5%.

The importance of both in the emerging markets index is now effectively relegated to potential contagion effects rather than absolute performance. With economic and profits growth in Asia in relatively short supply, the Fed tightening and China slowing, there is little reason to expect any significant revaluation and expectations of mid-single digit eps pass as a best estimate for gains in emerging Asia. As ever, there is substantial scope at the stock level and with significant individual opportunities in countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, all of which, however, are less than 2.5% of the emerging markets index.

Even so, it is interesting to note that both Credit Suisse and Barclays strategists have moved emerging markets to overweight recently while others, such as Goldman Sachs, see growth improvement a late second half story and expect most emerging markets to bottom in the first half of next year.

The information contained within is for educational and informational purposes ONLY. It is not intended nor should it be considered an invitation or inducement to buy or sell a security or securities noted within nor should it be viewed as a communication intended to persuade or incite you to buy or sell security or securities noted within. Any commentary provided is the opinion of the author and should not be considered a personalised recommendation. The information contained within should not be a person's sole basis for making an investment decision. Please contact your financial professional before making an investment decision.

About Author

Andy Brunner

Andy Brunner  is Head of Investment Strategy, Morningstar UK

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