Morningstar yesterday wondered if emerging markets are a buy? A number of money managers seem to think so, based on decisions to overweight this slice of the global equity pie. Some strategists have been recommending emerging markets (EM) as a value play for months. The results to date have been disappointing, although the recent pop in widely held ETFs in this space hint at the potential for something better in the months (years?) ahead.
The technical picture for EM stocks has certainly improved recently, thanks to a strong rally in the last several weeks. The Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF (VWO), for instance, has climbed more than 10% since Mar. 13 through yesterday (Apr. 8). If the rally continues, a bullish crossover pattern via key moving averages will signal a new phase of positive momentum for the fund. For example, the 50-day exponential moving average (EMA) looks set to rise above its 100-day and 200-day counterparts in the days ahead. If so, we’ll see a reversal in the bearish trend that’s be in force since last autumn for this ETF.
Several high-profile investors and advisors have been focused on emerging market stocks in recent history, albeit with less-than-stellar results so far. Last November, for instance, Rob Arnott of Research Affiliates outlined the case in Barron’s for a long-term value play in emerging market stocks. Financial advisor Bill Bernstein offered a similar analysis last Oct. in an interview with Morningstar. Last month, GMO’s Ben Inker explained his outlook for low-double-digit nominal returns in value stocks in emerging markets in comparison with considerably lower expected returns for US stocks. Inker’s forecast echoes the relatively upbeat outlook based on this month’s update of the long-term risk premium for emerging market equities broadly defined.
If the prospects are improving for equities in emerging markets, is the same true for bonds in these countries? Maybe not, if you expect that interest rates are headed higher. Meantime, the technical profile isn’t as compelling in fixed income, at least not yet, but there’s a bit of rally unfolding here too, albeit weakly so vs. EM equities. The Market Vectors Emerging Markets Local Currency Bond ETF (EMLC) has made an encouraging U-turn, rising nearly 7% since Mar. 13. In contrast with EM stocks, however, the moving average profile looks less encouraging. That could change, of course, if EMLC continues to rally. If it does, the case for bullish momentum will look stronger, if and when we see changes such as the 50-day EMA rising above its longer-term counterparts.
All the usual caveats apply, of course. But for the moment, the combination of fundamental value and what could soon turn into a bullish technical profile suggest that emerging markets could be on the fast track for returning to the crowd’s good graces. It could all turn out to be a head fake, of course. But for investors with low/zero allocations to emerging markets, the current climate is starting to look intriguing.