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Our emerging markets equity team has found that outdated misconceptions of the asset class still exist. We believe it’s worth dispelling some of these myths and highlighting the new realities we see. This first post in a three-part series examines how policy improvements in emerging markets could increase resilience in times of stress.
New Reality #1: Policy improvements should contribute to increased resilience during times of stress.
In decades past, many emerging markets had large external imbalances, current account deficits and large fiscal deficits.
However, many emerging markets have learned lessons from prior crises to strengthen and reposition their economies. Today, many emerging markets have less debt in comparison with developed markets across governments, corporates and households. Debt to gross domestic product (GDP) is approximately 50% across emerging markets, roughly half that of developed markets overall.1 The chart below also shows that not only is public debt generally lower, but household debt is also lower across emerging markets, and when excluding China, corporate debt is also lower.
We believe less debt across an economy means governments are more likely to loosen their purse strings if necessary during periods of stress without creating a fiscal crisis—and businesses and households can better survive economic downturns.
Over the past two decades, we’ve seen signs emerging market economies have been able to increase foreign exchange reserves, in addition to steering borrowing away from US-denominated debt. This signals to us that emerging markets are less likely to be vulnerable in periods when the US dollar strengthens against the local currency.
Emerging markets have made continuous improvements with more effective banking sector oversight and supervision. Going into this COVID-19 crisis, the high levels of oversight, regulation and capitalization mean that banks across most emerging markets should be able to weather this crisis. It would take a significant level of economic pain to impair bank balance sheets, in our view.
Examining corporate balance sheets can help identify the resilient companies during this crisis—and potential winners from an investment standpoint. The chart below highlights how emerging-market corporates in select areas have more cash on hand and less debt than corporates in Germany, the United States or United Kingdom.
The massive piles of cash some companies today are sitting on could provide a vital buffer against the dour economic climate. Companies without such reserves, whether in Asia or the United States and United Kingdom, could suffer in comparison.
While the coronavirus outbreak has tested the resilience of emerging markets, we think some of the changes that have taken place in these economies over the past few decades should help them weather the COVID-19 pandemic. In our view, lower levels of debt, higher levels of foreign exchange reserves, improved banking systems and stronger corporate balance sheets are indicators that emerging markets have come a long way from times past.
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What Are the Risks?
All investments involve risks, including possible loss of principal. Stock prices fluctuate, sometimes rapidly and dramatically, due to factors affecting individual companies, particular industries or sectors, or general market conditions. Special risks are associated with foreign investing, including currency fluctuations, economic instability and political developments. Investments in emerging markets involve heightened risks related to the same factors, in addition to those associated with these markets’ smaller size and lesser liquidity.
1. Franklin Templeton Capital Market Insights Group, International Monetary Fund, Macrobond, March 2020.