Insights & Advice

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Emerging markets are still on hold

A few months ago in my market column, I warned investors that emerging markets overall were pulling back and additional downside was probable. Thanks to the problems in the Middle East and elsewhere, that forecast has been fulfilled. Now what?

Emerging markets need more time

At the time, I advised that any further downside could prove to be a buying opportunity. The lower the stock markets of places like China, India and Brazil decline, the more tempted I am to begin to nibble at stocks and other securities in these countries.

In the second week of February, investors pulled $5.45 billion from emerging market funds and invested it into developed nations such as the U.S., Europe and Japan. That was the largest inflow of money into those regions in 30 months. Since the beginning of the year, worried investors have withdrawn 20% of the $95 billion that was invested in the region in 2010. China alone has lost more than $1 billion of outflows since the beginning of January.

The stock markets of these countries have taken it on the chin this year as a result. Emerging markets have suffered an overall decline of 3.8% year-to-date, while stock markets in the U.S., for example, are up close to 6%. The one big exception has been Russia, one of the four BRIC countries that also include Brazil, China and India.

Thanks to Russia’s vast oil and other natural resources, that country is considered a hedge against future inflation. Investors are also betting that, after years of abusing foreign investors, the Putin-controlled government is getting serious about treating all investors equally. Time will tell if Russia is blowing smoke or truly has turned over a new leaf. In the meantime, however, its equity market has more than kept pace with the U.S., gaining 11.3%, while India is down 12.6% and Brazil is off 4.4%.year-to-date.

As readers may recall, the chief reasons for the emerging market sell-off is climbing inflation rates which has been met by tightening monetary policies by central banks in just about all the “hot” countries. Brazil, for example raised rates yet again last night in an effort to slow the economy and reign in inflation. These actions have been the impetus to trigger corrections in all these markets after two very good years for equity investors. Indonesia, for example, was up 46% last year so a 5.1% pullback so far this year is small potatoes, in my opinion.

The recent upheavals in Egypt, Tunisia and the on-going strife in Libya have unfortunately lengthened the shadow that has darkened the prospects for emerging markets in 2011. Higher oil prices may also keep a lid on the economic prospects for some countries that have not been blessed with energy reserves.

As a contrarian, I like to buy securities when “the blood is running in the streets” as Baron Rothschild once described this style of investing at the bottom. As of yet, I don’t see that bottom. Keep your powder dry for a few more weeks (or maybe months) but keep an eye on these markets. Their long term economic prospects are extremely attractive. The current attempts by their governments to reign in inflation just bolsters the investment case for this group of countries whose governments and economies are finally coming of age.

Posted in A Few Dollars More, Portfolio Advice