Since the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation first coined the term emerging markets in 1981, the characteristics and composition of the markets have evolved significantly. Past concerns regarding the resilience of emerging markets during a crisis led some investors to struggle with the merits of including a direct allocation. However, with the rise of China and its leadership of global economic growth, investors are increasingly considering a dedicated allocation to emerging markets. This article reviews the evolution and the general case for investing in emerging markets.
The key attributes supporting the case for global emerging markets have been evident for some time and include:
| Greater growth
|| In the latest Global Economic Prospects report by The World Bank Group, emerging and developing economies are forecast to grow more than double that of advanced economies in 2023 and 2024.
| Drivers of Innovation
|| Many emerging markets companies have become leaders of innovation in important sectors such as internet-related technologies, electric vehicle battery manufacturing, and computer chip manufacturing.
| Household names
|| Many emerging market companies are household names such as Samsung and Hyundai, while other less recognized companies have acquired well-known global brands.
| Rising returns
|| As emerging markets shift from manufacturing to more value-added industries, there is an expectation for the ability to generate superior returns to rise.
| Alpha opportunities
|| Emerging markets are less researched by the analyst community compared with large cap developed equity markets, which creates opportunities for excess returns from independent research by active managers.
Emerging markets are characterized as countries with growing economies and a growing middle-class population. Many of these markets continue to have high rates of poverty, and often they are still experiencing significant social and political change. But despite such headwinds, the growth prospects of emerging markets can provide a strong base for investors to be rewarded.
The market capitalization of emerging markets was US$ 90,456 billion as of December 31, 2022, representing a little over 11% of the world equity capitalization. Yet many institutional investors have no direct exposure to emerging markets. Instead, investors often rely on their international and global equity managers to selectively invest in emerging markets, which can result in the allocation falling well short of its representation of the world equity market capitalization. With emerging markets representing the highest growth area of global stock markets, there is a case for investors to benefit from at least a market representation.
The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is comprised of over 1,300 stocks in 24 countries. Countries are normally grouped into three regions, Emerging Markets Asia, Emerging Markets Latin America and Emerging Markets Europe, Middle East and Africa, with the Asian region representing almost 80% of the market index.
For the longest time emerging markets were considered similar to the Canadian equity market, with a heavy bias to commodities. Today, the combined weighting in energy and materials for emerging markets is less than 13% of the index market capitalization, compared to 30% of the Canadian equity market. Instead, emerging markets have evolved to offer opportunities different to the Canadian equity market. For example, emerging markets have experienced a steady rise in the information technology and health care sector allocations, which together represent over 20% of the market index (Figure 1). Not only that, but within the information technology sector there has also been a radical change in its composition with large and successful companies, such as Alibaba and Tencent making up an important component of the sector.
Figure 1: Index Sector Allocations
| Global Industry Classification (GIC) Sector
|| MSCI Emerging Markets (%)
|| S&P/TSX Composite (%)
Source: Thomson Reuters Datastream. Data as of December 31, 2022. Due to rounding, column percentages may not total 100%.
The financial sector represents around 14% of the index and offers a further differentiation versus developed markets, where the loan-to-deposit ratios in emerging market companies are generally lower.
However, the biggest change to the emerging market index has been with respect to country allocation, and the growing dominance of China in the index. It was not long ago that large cap China A shares represented less than 1% of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. At the end of 2022, China accounted for over 32% of the index (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Region and Larger Country Allocations
| Region and Country
|| MSCI Emerging Markets Index (%)
| Emerging Markets Asia
| Republic of Korea
| Emerging Markets Europe, Middle East & Africa
| Saudi Arabia
| United Arab Emirates
| South Africa
| Emerging Markets Latin America
Understanding the Risks
It is important to appreciate risks associated with investing in emerging markets. While active managers can mitigate some of these risks through research and careful selection of individual stocks, investors should recognize the following.
- Political and social risk: Political and social changes taking place in emerging market countries can lead to uncertainty due to corruption, regulations not always being rigorously enforced, or governments exhibiting an unwanted influence. The uncertainty contributes to market volatility. For example, Beijing’s actions to limit the influence of Hong Kong-listed technology companies, combined with a real estate sector crisis and the zero-COVID policies that witnessed longer strict pandemic controls relative to most other governments, contributed to a tough and volatile 2021-2022 for emerging market equities.
- Information and liquidity risk: Although the quality of data has vastly improved, obtaining good, complete and timely information can still be challenging in emerging markets. Currency controls remaining in a small number of markets also may create liquidity concerns.
Recognizing the potential benefits
While the countries are classified as emerging, nearly all the companies in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index have a market capitalization greater than US$ 1 billion, which compares to 209 Canadian companies with a market value above US$ 1 billion. Increasingly, emerging market companies are becoming household names, whether on their own merits, or through acquisition of global branded companies, such as Samsung, Hyundai Motor and the Indian conglomerate, Tata, which is the owner of brands such as Jaguar, Land Rover and Tetley Tea.
The key benefits offered by emerging markets include:
- Growth opportunity: The drivers of growth are wide ranging and include demographics, economic development, technology, innovation, infrastructure development, and capital market developments. While global growth is expected to moderate from 2021 levels, emerging and developing countries are expected to account for a significant component of world gross domestic product (GDP). The World Bank forecasts emerging and developing markets to grow at an average annual rate of 3.4% in 2023 and 4.1% in 2024, compared to expansion of only 0.5% and 1.6%, respectively for advanced (developed) economies.1 A significant proportion of developed market company earnings are also linked to emerging market growth, further underlining its importance.
- Drivers of innovation: Innovation in emerging markets has contributed to its evolution, as well as China becoming an important component of the market. Innovation has allowed several emerging market countries to leapfrog the developed world in terms of business models. For example, while many farmers in India have no access to computers and landlines, smart phones have created an information and business environment that allows buyers and sellers to interact, as well as enabling e-payments.
- Rerating opportunity: Ordinarily, high-growth assets are priced at a premium. Emerging market stocks have traditionally traded at a discount to developed world valuations, but the economic fundamentals for emerging markets as a whole have improved.
- Improving returns: Many emerging market companies are shifting away from manufacturing for Western companies and looking to develop their own identity and growth success. To achieve this they are tapping into higher value-added areas using brands and technology, recognizing that branded firms with loyal followers can achieve more than double the margins of non-brand firms. Return on invested capital (ROIC) should rise for emerging market companies as they develop world-class brands.
- Growing universe of opportunities: The growth of China in the emerging market index has also witnessed a growth in the universe of investment opportunities. Today, there are as many China A shares that meet the typical liquidity and market capitalization criteria as there are in the United States (US) equity market. Similarly, the number of opportunities for emerging markets excluding China is not too different from the number of opportunities for the global developed market, excluding the US.
- Style offset opportunity: The growing opportunity set has witnessed a growth in systematic (quantitative) fund offerings, where the managers use technology to gain a breadth of understanding on a large universe of companies, compared to the depth of understanding associated with fundamental managers focused on selecting a smaller portfolio of companies. As for other equity markets, investors who can accommodate multiple managers in an asset class can benefit from the complementary approaches of systematic and fundamental styles.
- Alpha opportunity: The external analyst community generally undertakes less research of emerging market companies compared to global developed companies. Active managers have been able to benefit from independent research with over 86% of managers in the emerging market equity universe outperforming the MSCI Emerging Market Index over the 10 years ended December 31, 2021 (based on the eVestment database).
Environmental, Social and Governance Considerations (ESG)
Despite the political and social challenges associated with emerging market countries, companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of ESG considerations. Helping this cause has been the expansion of ESG coverage of emerging markets companies by third-party providers. The importance of each ESG component varies from one country, industry or company to another. However, like the developed world, corporate governance tends to be the most material issue, followed by the steps being taken to manage the environmental impact of companies in the emerging markets.
The Case for Emerging Markets
Many investors are underweight emerging markets relative to its representation in world equity markets, yet global growth is expected to be led by emerging and other developing markets.
Canadian investors have historically shied away from emerging markets, partly due to the historical commodity bias. Today, emerging markets offer a very different opportunity set due to innovation that has seen a transformation in the type of companies and opportunities, including a significant growth in the information technology sector.
As emerging market companies shift from manufacturing to higher value-added interests using brands and technology, the number of emerging market household names will increase, and help to grow margins and ultimately the return potential from emerging markets.
1 Source: World Bank Global Economic Prospects, January 2023