Emerging markets stocks delivered impressive returns in 2017, but valuations for many companies domiciled in developing nations still appear relatively attractive and profit growth is surging, suggesting there is room to run.
Stronger local currencies in some nations, an expanding global economy and rising middle class prosperity also bode well for emerging markets stocks.
At this stage of the rally, with market expectations rising and the prospect of tighter central bank policies across major markets increasing, selectivity is essential.
The rally in emerging markets equities is more than 20 months old, with stocks up 76% since a trough in early 2016. Is the rebound getting long in the tooth? It really could just be getting started. An expanding global economy, strengthening currencies and robust demand for technology-related components all bode well for emerging markets. A synchronized global recovery is an ideal environment for emerging markets, similar to the period that lasted from 2003 to 2007.
Amid the ongoing rebound, overall valuations are still attractive from a historical basis and compared to developed markets. For instance, China, Taiwan and Brazil all trade around 13 times projected earnings over the next year, compared with 17 times estimated earnings for the MSCI World Index. Company cash flows are also increasing, which could lead to higher earnings revisions. Corporate profits are forecast to climb 13% in 2018, and historically rising profits have been good for share prices.
Emerging markets have shifted from smokestacks to smartphones. Back in 2008, energy and materials companies dominated the MSCI Emerging Markets Index with a 38% weighting, and many of these firms were state-owned enterprises that were more susceptible to infrastructure-driven booms and busts.
Chinese technology-related firms are now the biggest companies by market value in emerging markets as mobile phone usage is accelerating and internet penetration rates are rising. Along with middle class growth, these developments are changing consumption patterns and delivery methods for financial services.
This "tech-tonic" shift over the past decade (information technology now accounts for 28% of index weight) has also come with a decrease in volatility as cyclical, commodity-oriented companies are no longer index heavyweights.
There seems to be no shortage of worries about China, ranging from debt levels at state-owned enterprises to a potential trade war with the U.S. to an overheated real estate market. That said, China appears to be deftly managing its economic transition to a services-led economy, sidestepping a much feared hard landing through targeted stimulus measures and moves to curb capital flight.
President Xi Jinping enters his second five-year term with a firmer grip on his power and control over the direction of the economy. Measures on Xi’s agenda include consolidating heavy industries, curbing pollution, managing financial risks and supporting technological innovation.
Consumption remains brisk. Housing demand is strong despite government restrictions aimed at curbing speculation. Home purchases should support consumer spending in areas such as household appliances and furniture. Meanwhile, internet heavyweights Tencent and Alibaba continue to report robust sales and profit as consumers gravitate to their wide-encompassing mobile services platforms.