Your investments: After years of under-performance, is now the time for emerging markets?

It won’t be easy, you’ll think it strange, When I try to explain how I feel That I still need your love after all that I’ve done – Madonna, ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’

An accountant calculator taxes 370 (photo credit: Ivan Alvarado / Reuters)
An accountant calculator taxes 370
(photo credit: Ivan Alvarado / Reuters)
 As the US stock market gets off to a woeful start to 2014 on the heels of a wonderful multiyear market run, investors should take a look at markets that may be undervalued. Turn on the news and you’ll hear about rioting in the Ukraine, corruption in Turkey and another economic crisis in Argentina. It’s no wonder that emerging-market stocks have been clobbered to start the year.
The Washington Post described the newest crisis in Argentina: “The crunch is the predictable result of the populist policies pursued in recent years by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who has kept utility rates frozen (leading to power outages), nationalized the country’s largest oil company (making Argentina a net importer of energy despite its huge reserves of oil and gas) and combated inflation by doctoring official figures and threatening journalists who report the real numbers.”
But don’t think Argentina is the poster boy for emerging- market economies. In my book Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing, I interviewed ActivePath CEO J.J. Sussman, who spends a substantial amount of time in the region, and he said: “Back in the ’80s they used to compare Argentina to New York.
That’s no longer the case. When I am in Argentina, I feel that time stopped, and it’s still 1986. Contrast that to Chile and Brazil, where everywhere you turn there is building and a general sense of vibrancy that is lacking in Argentina.”
And this is exactly the point. Not all emerging markets are Argentina. After years of under-performance in relation to US financial markets, investors would be wise to start investigating opportunities that these markets present.
Investors should be on the lookout for markets that have the potential to provide more value going forward.
Keep in mind the most important investing mantra: Buy low and sell high.
Since the financial meltdown of five years ago, while many Western countries watched as their debt was downgraded, including the US, emerging-market economies have continued to flourish and have seen rating upgrades.
I think it’s fair to say that countries such as Mexico and South Korea have stronger and more stable economies than France and Italy. And perhaps most important, they have none of the staggering debt issues that threatens the very sustainability of much of the developed world. In fact, Chile is required by law to run a structural surplus.
Where is the opportunity? While the media has been playing up the short-term drop in emerging-market stocks, it has been going on for a few years. Shawn Tully of CNN Money wrote: “The latest crash in emerging-market shares follows on years of poor market performance. Since the start of 2014, the iShares MSCI Emerging Market index (EEM) has tumbled 8.8 percent, versus 4% for the S&P 500. Even in 2013, a year when the S&P rose 29.6%, the EEM slipped 5.7%, and investors have suffered negative returns for more than three years.
“That sorry record of swooning (as the developed world was soaring) is precisely what has made the category so cheap. Yet the growing gap in valuations is totally unsupported by the fundamentals. In general, the emerging- markets economies are not only growing faster than the developed world, but are growing in a more fiscally disciplined way. These countries have younger populations and a greater abundance of natural resources than the developed countries of Europe and North America.”
I think that it’s this very under-performance against the backdrop of strong economic fundamentals that makes for a potentially intriguing investment. As with all investment ideas: Do your own research! There is certainly risk with investing in emerging markets, and over the short term they can be volatile, but speak with your financial professional to investigate whether there is room in your portfolio for this asset.
The information contained in this article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of Portfolio Resources Group, Inc., or its affiliates.
[email protected] Aaron Katsman is a licensed financial professional in Israel and the United States who helps people with US investment accounts.
He is the author of the book Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing.