The Case for Emerging Market Debt

The economic outlook for your home country might be quite different from one halfway across the globe—or even right next door

Franklin Templeton Investments 30 July, 2012 | 1:05PM
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This article is part of Morningstar's "Perspectives" series, which is a series of articles written by third-party contributors.

Many investors have an innate “home country” bias, giving them blinders when it comes to opportunities beyond their own nation’s borders. But the economic outlook for your home country might be quite different from one halfway across the globe—or even right next door. Emerging markets may be viewed as a world away to investors in developed markets, but they can make a potentially compelling investment story for those seeking diversification. William Ledward, the London-based senior vice president and portfolio manager at Franklin Templeton’s Fixed Income Group, makes the case as he sees it for emerging market debt.

Opportunities in Emerging Market Debt
Leading benchmarks of emerging market debt have held up reasonably well despite a rise in risk aversion among investors. This is not surprising to Ledward, when considering the relatively strong economic position of many emerging market countries and the significant yield premium that many emerging market bonds currently offer over their developed-country counterparts. In terms of economic growth, emerging markets in general have outpaced developed markets since 2000. (For example, according to the CIA World FactBook, in 2011 US GDP was below 2% vs. 13.5% in Ghana and 9.2% in China.) Emerging markets have a relatively healthy fiscal position too, with generally lower debt-to-GDP ratios compared to most developed economies. Here’s why Ledward thinks emerging market debt is likely to score more attention from investors.

“The 2008–2009 global financial crisis brought into sharp focus the relative strengths of emerging market economies, and we believe their share of global GDP is likely to continue to increase at the expense of developed countries. An expanding middle class with rising disposable incomes in many emerging markets has fuelled the rapid growth of domestic demand and intra-regional trade. Over the past decade, liquidity in emerging markets has substantially improved as both the variety of investment opportunities and the investor base has broadened. Furthermore, the sizable foreign currency reserves built up by many emerging markets have helped their currencies to appreciate, boosting returns for investors in developed markets, with potential for further gains if this were to continue.“ 

It has taken time for emerging market debt to move into the mainstream investment universe, primarily because major ratings agencies put emerging market sovereign issuers predominantly below investment grade, based on weak government finances and poor institutional governance. But things are starting to change.

“Successive crises—most significantly, the 1998 Asian crisis—prompted many developing countries to favour export-led growth and switch from fixed to floating exchange rates, allowing them to amass foreign exchange reserves and reduce their vulnerability to short-term market fluctuations. According to our research, the average credit quality of emerging market sovereign bonds has been increasing.”

Increased Liquidity Across Sovereign and Corporate Emerging Market Debt
Investor sentiment or perception is extremely important to a market’s fate. Ledward notes that one of the key turning points in building confidence in emerging market debt occurred in 2003. Through fiscal tightening, Brazil managed to avert a potential default, and investors’ appetite for the asset class has continued to build since then. While Brazil and other emerging economies are facing some fallout from the eurozone crisis and coping with slower growth this year, past fiscal prudence should work in the favour of many emerging markets, says Ledward.

“In aggregate, emerging markets now only have around a third of the debt of their developed peers. A significant number of emerging market countries and companies hold investment-grade credit ratings. The stability and improved fundamentals of many emerging market sovereigns have opened up capital markets for the emerging market quasi-government and non-government corporate sectors. This has resulted in a steady increase in both hard-currency (US dollar, euro and Japanese yen) and local-currency denominated issuance. This has helped enhance the liquidity and depth of the asset class. Emerging market corporate issuance has significantly expanded in recent years, both in absolute terms and relative to levels of emerging market sovereign issuance. With growth in these economies consistently outpacing that of developed countries since 2000 and underpinned by substantial flows of foreign direct investment, emerging market companies have sought access to long-term financing outside of their local markets to allow them to take advantage of potential opportunities offered by globalisation and M&A.”

Decreased Dependence on Developed Economies
There has been much discussion about the extent to which emerging markets have “decoupled” from advanced economies. Within an increasingly globalized world, in Ledward’s view, it appears unlikely that emerging markets could ever be completely insulated from the economic fortunes of developed countries. This was certainly the case during the 2008-2009 financial market crisis, which began in the US and Europe. However, emerging market economies generally suffered less than developed markets during that time, and some managed to maintain attractive growth rates.

“This would suggest there are secular drivers of economic growth at work in emerging markets. (According to Citi research,) one of the most important drivers is intra-emerging market trade, which rose from only 6% of world trade in 2000 to 13% in 2010. According to Citigroup estimates, intra-emerging market trade is forecast to account for 27% of world trade in 2030, overtaking the value of trade between advanced economies. (This number is expected to hit) 38% in 2050. Should the eurozone crisis deteriorate and deliver a Lehman-type shock to the global economy, it would certainly impact emerging markets, but whether this multiyear trend—whereby emerging markets have been taking an ever-larger slice of world trade—would be affected, is questionable in our view. So, while some of these countries may continue to have greater exposure than others to, for example, commodity prices or capital flows, the case for a decreasing overall emerging market dependence on the G3 economies seems persuasive to us.”

Ledward has also seen evidence that corporate governance seems to be improving and that wider adoption of international accounting standards by these countries over the last 10 years has increased transparency and improved the backdrop for prospective investors. Better bankruptcy procedures have enhanced the recovery rates possible on defaulted bonds, too.

“In our view, emerging market debt represents a potentially interesting segment of the market for investors seeking to increase diversification away from more established markets. In parallel with the expansion of the opportunity set, the quality of the investment universe appears to have risen as well. Therefore, we believe that the outlook for returns from the asset class, when compared with yields from some of the largest developed sovereign and investment-grade bond markets, could remain attractive.”


This article is part of Morningstar's "Perspectives" series, which is a series of articles written by third-party contributors.  The views contained herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Morningstar. If you are interested in Morningstar featuring your content on our website, please email submissions to This article was originally published in July 2012 on

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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Franklin Templeton Investments  is one of the world's largest asset management groups, offering UK investors a range of over 80 funds across different market sectors.

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