Is Now the Time to Invest in Emerging Markets? - Kanebridge News
Share Button

Is Now the Time to Invest in Emerging Markets?

Emerging-markets stock ETFs offer exposure to higher-growth markets, but they also can be volatile. Here is a look at the pros and cons of these investments.

By LORI IOANNOU
Tue, Sep 5, 2023 7:57amGrey Clock 5 min

For some investors seeking to diversify their portfolios, emerging markets are looking increasingly attractive.

There are 169 emerging-markets stock ETFs available to fund investors, with total assets of about $296 billion, according to fund researcher Morningstar Direct.

Some analysts and financial advisers say there is a lot to like about this sector right now. What is the argument for putting money into these exchange-traded funds? And what’s the argument for getting out, or not starting at all? Here’s a look at the pros and cons.

The Pros

One factor driving interest in emerging-markets ETFs is that emerging economies are growing faster than advanced economies, and that isn’t forecast to change soon. The International Monetary Fund forecasts real GDP growth of only 1.4% in advanced economies in 2024 due to inflation, monetary policy and other factors. In contrast, the IMF projects real GDP growth of 4.1% for emerging and developing economies, helped by countries such as India, which is expected to grow at a rate of 6.3%.

“The biggest reason to invest in emerging-markets ETFs today is to gain exposure to high-growth markets with burgeoning middle-class consumers such as China, India, Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam,” says Aniket Ullal, senior vice president and head of ETF data and analytics at CFRA Research. He says emerging markets are home to more than 4.3 billion people, and they account for about half of global GDP.

Crowds in the Ximen shopping district in Taipei, Taiwan., in June. Taiwan is one of the emerging economies that some ETFs focus on. PHOTO: AN RONG XU FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Another attraction is that valuations on emerging-markets stocks are low. While the price-to-earnings ratio of the S&P 500 was 22.4 based on trailing 12-month reported earnings as of July 31, the P/E ratio of the MSCI Emerging Markets—which includes the stock of most liquid large- and midcap companies in 25 emerging-market countries—was 14.13.

“This is a smart contrarian play for investors who want to diversify their portfolios geographically,” says Gabriel Shahin, president of Falcon Wealth Planning, an investment adviser in Los Angeles. “There is a fire sale going on in emerging-market stocks, and this is one of the smartest plays in equity investing right now.”

Some see these investments as a hedge, considering this year’s U.S. stock rally—dominated by a small number of large-cap technology companies—could end at any time.

Emerging-markets ETFs come in many varieties, so investors can choose those that align with their macroeconomic outlook and financial goals.

While some of these funds invest in a broad basket of emerging-market countries that span the globe such as the $72.1 billion iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (IEMG), others invest in geographic regions such as Asia or Latin America or are country-specific.

The $64.2 million Franklin FTSE Latin America ETF (FLLA), for example, invests in large-cap and midcap companies in Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. It has returned more than 19% year-to-date through Aug. 29 and 15.6% over the past year. The $175.8 million Franklin FTSE Taiwan ETF (FLTW) invests in midcap and large-cap Taiwanese companies. It has a year-to-date return of 14.7% and a one-year-return of 8.2% as of Aug. 29.

For investors concerned about the economic slowdown in China, there are emerging-markets ETFs that exclude Chinese equities such as the $5.16 billion iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ex-China (EMXC). Its top holdings are Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, Samsung Electronics and Reliance Industries.

Some emerging-markets ETFs target small- or large-cap stocks. One is the $34.2 million VanEck Brazil Small-Cap ETF (BRF), which is up about 32% year-to-date and 11.4% over one year as of Aug. 29. Others focus on industry sectors such as technology and e-commerce.

While most emerging-markets equity ETFs track indexes, an increasing number of newer funds are actively managed. Of the 11 emerging-markets ETFs that have launched this year, eight are actively managed, including Global X Brazil Active ETF (BRAZ), a $2.61 million fund that invests in Brazilian companies such as Petrobras, a multinational petroleum company, and Vale, the world’s largest iron-ore producer.

There are even emerging-markets ETFs that pay dividends, such as the $243.5 million SPDR S&P Emerging Market Dividend ETF (EDIV), which is up 28.2% year-to-date through Aug. 29 and has a dividend yield of 3.78%.

According to Morningstar Direct, the top-performing emerging market ETFs this year through Aug. 29 are VanEck Brazil Small-Cap, SPDR S&P Emerging Market Dividend and iShares MSCI Brazil Small-Cap (EWZS), which is up 24.1% so far this year and 5.7% over one year.

The Cons

Some advisers, however, say investors looking at emerging-markets equity funds should proceed with caution.

“Emerging-markets equity ETFs are more volatile than international ETFs that focus on stocks in advanced economies,” says Lan Anh Tran, a research analyst at Morningstar Direct. Over the past 10 years ended July 31, 2023, the standard deviation of the MSCI Emerging Market Index was 16.2% higher than the MSCI World Index—a proxy for global developed-market stocks, she notes. Standard deviation measures volatility, with a higher number representing more volatility.

That’s because any sudden geopolitical event (such as the war in Ukraine) or any economic shock (like soaring inflation or a global supply-chain disruption) can have a jarring effect on emerging-market economies that are dependent on commodity exports, tourism and the health of advanced economies, investment strategists say.

There also is the risk of government influence and regulation on emerging-markets stocks, says Tran. A government, for example, can decide to nationalise an industry at any time, or exercise control over an industry sector.

Currency movements are another risk factor to consider, says CFRA’s Ullal. “If the dollar strengthens against local currencies, your fund returns will erode,” he says.

“It’s important that investors understand this is a high-risk, high-reward investment before they dive into them,” says Andrew J. Feldman, the founder of A.J. Feldman Financial in Chicago. “These funds can be highly volatile due to a host of systemic risks in emerging-market countries, including economic risk, geopolitical risk, currency risk and liquidity risk.”

These challenges make some investors skittish about investing in emerging-markets ETFs, says Kevin Shuller, founder and chief investment officer of Cedar Peak Wealth Advisors in Denver. “They believe that companies domiciled in the U.S. do a lot of business in emerging markets, so if you own the S&P 500 or MSCI EAFE index you have all the exposure you need.”

“It’s a good counterargument,” he says, “but [it] doesn’t take into account that the party in the U.S. stock market may not go on forever.”

Many investment advisers instead suggest individual investors take a step-by-step approach when choosing an emerging-markets ETF and allocate 5% to 10% of their equity portfolio in such vehicles.

“Country selection matters most so check the fund’s geographic exposure,” says Perth Tolle, founder of Life + Liberty Indexes and the $625.4 million Freedom 100 Emerging Markets ETF (FRDM), which invests in about 100 companies in 10 countries that aren’t autocracies but freer markets such as Chile, Poland, South Korea and Taiwan.

Also look at the methodologies and metrics the ETF uses when choosing stocks for its index or portfolio, as well as the fund fees. The average expense ratio for this ETF group is 0.51%, according to Morningstar Direct.

“A good way to assess a fund’s value is to look at its weighted average price to cash flow,” a measure of the price of a company’s stock relative to how much cash flow it generates, says Kevin Grogan, chief investment officer at Buckingham Wealth Partners in St. Louis. It gives a pulse reading on how cheap or expensive the emerging-markets stocks are in the fund.



MOST POPULAR

What a quarter-million dollars gets you in the western capital.

Alexandre de Betak and his wife are focusing on their most personal project yet.

Related Stories
Money
To Find Winning Stocks, Investors Often Focus on the Laggards. They Shouldn’t.
By KEN SHREVE 12/06/2024
Money
Louis Vuitton Unveils Its Most Extravagant High-Jewellery Collection Ahead of Olympics
By LAURIE KAHLE 09/06/2024
Money
Sylvester Stallone Sells His Knockout Watch Collection, Including the Most Valuable Modern Timepiece Sold in Sotheby’s History
By ERIC GROSSMAN 08/06/2024

These stocks are getting hit for a reason. Instead, focus on stocks that show ‘relative strength.’ Here’s how.

By KEN SHREVE
Wed, Jun 12, 2024 4 min

A lot of investors get stock-picking wrong before they even get started: Instead of targeting the top-performing stocks in the market, they focus on the laggards—widely known companies that look as if they are on sale after a period of stock-price weakness.

But these weak performers usually are going down for good reasons, such as for deteriorating sales and earnings, market-share losses or mutual-fund managers who are unwinding positions.

Decades of Investor’s Business Daily research shows these aren’t the stocks that tend to become stock-market leaders. The stocks that reward investors with handsome gains for months or years are more often  already  the strongest price performers, usually because of outstanding earnings and sales growth and increasing fund ownership.

Of course, many investors already chase performance and pour money into winning stocks. So how can a discerning investor find the winning stocks that have more room to run?

Enter “relative strength”—the notion that strength begets more strength. Relative strength measures stocks’ recent performance relative to the overall market. Investing in stocks with high relative strength means going with the winners, rather than picking stocks in hopes of a rebound. Why bet on a last-place team when you can wager on the leader?

One of the easiest ways to identify the strongest price performers is with IBD’s Relative Strength Rating. Ranked on a scale of 1-99, a stock with an RS rating of 99 has outperformed 99% of all stocks based on 12-month price performance.

How to use the metric

To capitalise on relative strength, an investor’s search should be focused on stocks with RS ratings of at least 80.

But beware: While the goal is to buy stocks that are performing better than the overall market, stocks with the highest RS ratings aren’t  always  the best to buy. No doubt, some stocks extend rallies for years. But others will be too far into their price run-up and ready to start a longer-term price decline.

Thus, there is a limit to chasing performance. To avoid this pitfall, investors should focus on stocks that have strong relative strength but have seen a moderate price decline and are just coming out of weeks or months of trading within a limited range. This range will vary by stock, but IBD research shows that most good trading patterns can show declines of up to one-third.

Here, a relative strength line on a chart may be helpful for confirming an RS rating’s buy signal. Offered on some stock-charting tools, including IBD’s, the line is a way to visualise relative strength by comparing a stock’s price performance relative to the movement of the S&P 500 or other benchmark.

When the line is sloping upward, it means the stock is outperforming the benchmark. When it is sloping downward, the stock is lagging behind the benchmark. One reason the RS line is helpful is that the line can rise even when a stock price is falling, meaning its value is falling at a slower pace than the benchmark.

A case study

The value of relative strength could be seen in Google parent Alphabet in January 2020, when its RS rating was 89 before it started a 10-month run when the stock rose 64%. Meta Platforms ’ RS rating was 96 before the Facebook parent hit new highs in March 2023 and ran up 65% in four months. Abercrombie & Fitch , one of 2023’s best-performing stocks, had a 94 rating before it soared 342% in nine months starting in June 2023.

Those stocks weren’t flukes. In a study of the biggest stock-market winners from the early 1950s through 2008, the average RS rating of the best performers before they began their major price runs was 87.

To see relative strength in action, consider Nvidia . The chip stock was an established leader, having shot up 365% from its October 2022 low to its high of $504.48 in late August 2023.

But then it spent the next four months rangebound—giving up some ground, then gaining some back. Through this period, shares held between $392.30 and the August peak, declining no more than 22% from top to bottom.

On Jan. 8, Nvidia broke out of its trading range to new highs. The previous session, Nvidia’s RS rating was 97. And that week, the stock’s relative strength line hit new highs. The catalyst: Investors cheered the company’s update on its latest advancements in artificial intelligence.

Nvidia then rose 16% on Feb. 22 after the company said earnings for the January-ended quarter soared 486% year over year to $5.16 a share. Revenue more than tripled to $22.1 billion. It also significantly raised its earnings and revenue guidance for the quarter that was to end in April. In all, Nvidia climbed 89% from Jan. 5 to its March 7 close.

And the stock has continued to run up, surging past $1,000 a share in late May after the company exceeded that guidance for the April-ended quarter and delivered record revenue of $26 billion and record net profit of $14.88 billion.

Ken Shreve  is a senior markets writer at Investor’s Business Daily. Follow him on X  @IBD_KShreve  for more stock-market analysis and insights, or contact him at  ken.shreve@investors.com .