How to Add Emerging Market Bonds to Your Portfolio

What are the risks associated with investing with emerging market bonds? And what do they add to an investors portfolio?

Emma Wall 14 July, 2017 | 12:46AM
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This article is part of the Morningstar's Guide to Emerging Market Investing. Click here to find out just what an emerging market is and which regions hold the potential to boost your investment portfolio.




Emma Wall: Hello and welcome to the Morningstar Series "Ask the Expert". I'm Emma Wall and I'm joined today by Morningstar Investment Management's Tanguy De Lauzon.

Hello Tanguy.

Tanguy De Lauzon: Hello Emma.

Wall: So today we are talking about emerging market bonds. Firstly, I wanted to ask what is the appeal of this asset class.

De Lauzon: Well it's an asset class that’s quite appealing. So, you effectively have got two sections of that asset class. So, EM debt issued in hard currency, so in dollar terms, so you got a spread on that and typically because those markets have lower quality, you got good spreads.

So, it’s a way to enhance your returns while still having exposure to the U.S. gov principally. And then on the other side, you have got the emerging market debt issued in local currency and then you typically have pretty high yields due to the higher inflation, but also to the premium that are requested by investor to invest in those countries.

Wall: And of course, in developed markets over the last 10 years we have seen such record low yields that income investors, it's not surprising they've looked overseas to try and get a real return on their money. But there are risks associated with the EMD, aren’t there?

De Lauzon: Yeah, definitely. So, effectively, investors have looked for and searched for yields, so went very much into those asset classes, but there are definitely significant risks. So, EM hard currency effectively you could see that something similar to high yield where you offer a high yield or high credit spread. But this is because the credit quality behind that is pretty high. And on the local currency side, obviously, you've got the currency risks.

So, when everything goes well, that's potentially a contributor to returns. But when market sentiment turns down or when you have issues at the sort of sovereign health, then obviously the currencies can swing pretty really the wrong direction making that investment very risky.

Wall: And is it fair to say that default rates in emerging markets are much higher than those in developed markets?

De Lauzon: It is true definitely. We have seen a few of those countries defaulting on debts. You can think of LatAm countries had quite a few issues over the past years. So, it's definitely something to consider.

Wall: And with any investment, of course, you have got to weigh up the risks and the rewards. So, how can you use emerging market debt in your portfolio?

De Lauzon: So, typically, we see emerging market debt as sort of an hybrid type of investment with sort of income characteristics that are very appealing, especially for defensive portfolios. But also keeping in mind those risks that are elevated. So, we see it as a good way to diversify sort of gross investments, so slightly less risky than equities, but definitely more risky than bonds and so those hybrid characteristics when the valuations are attractive are effectively a very good way to enhance the risk/reward of your portfolio.

Wall: And emerging market debt carries high yield than developed market debt at the moment. But it has come down, hasn’t it, much like the bond rally we've seen in the U.S., Europe and the U.K. Yields are much lower now than they were a couple of years ago?

De Lauzon: Yeah. So, I think generally the health of many emerging markets have improved over the last few years. This has been recognized by investors. We have seen the yields coming down significantly. So, now close to a percent I think at the beginning of the year on local debt. Spreads on the hard sides have come down from over 400 basis points to now close to 300 basis points. So, definitely, a reduction in the yield offered by these markets, making them effectively less appealing now.

Wall: And of course, you operate a value-based investment strategy. So, presumably, this makes them less attractive to you now than they were a year ago two years ago.

De Lauzon: Yeah, we were quite excited by those markets a year ago and now we're seeing the attractiveness has decreased significantly, mostly on the hard currency side effectively where the spreads are now below what we consider a fair value. And so, we don’t really feel we are paid for the risk or we were talking about default risk that we are taking.

On the EM local side, the yields are still reasonably appealing. But on the currency side, so currency is obviously a big portion of the risk you carry with those and at the moment, especially with the pound being at relatively cheap levels, this is not something that's likely to offer positive return in the future and definitely carries some risk. So, this is definitely an asset class that we find less and less attractive.

Wall: Tanguy, thank you very much.

De Lauzon: You are welcome.

Wall: This is Emma Wall for Morningstar. Thank you for watching.

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.

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Emma Wall  is former Senior International Editor for Morningstar

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