Emerging markets and the pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt emerging markets a great challenge. The way out won't be easy, but all is not lost for patient investors.

"All is not lost for emerging markets, or for patient investors who embrace the greater risk/reward trade-offs that these markets can provide."

The Covid-19 pandemic presents emerging markets with a colossal challenge. This challenge is not of their own making, and the way out won't be easy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said as much in late June, lowering its forecast for growth in emerging and developing economies for both 2020 and 2021, even as it raised its 2021 forecast for advanced economies.

Of course, individual emerging markets are more different than they are alike, and the pace and trajectory of recovery is likely to vary, perhaps significantly, from region to region and country to country. The progression of Covid-19, more than anything else, will dictate the terms.

But all is not lost for emerging markets, or for patient investors who embrace the greater risk/reward trade-offs that these markets can provide.

A disease-progression story first

Any economic forecast these days is fraught with uncertainty, dependent on the degree to which the pandemic spreads and countries curtail activity to keep it from doing so. The IMF's especially pessimistic near-term view for Latin America and the Caribbean is telling, and reflects the disease's spread there.

As recently as April, the IMF had foreseen the region's economy contracting by -5.2% in 2020. In its June forecast, the IMF sees the region contracting by -9.4%. That's a difference of more than 4 percentage points, compared with a reduction of less than 2 percentage points in the outlook for all other emerging and developing regions – and for advanced economies – in the same time frame.

2020 and 2021 emerging markets growth outlooks

Brazil, Latin America's largest economy, trails only the United States in confirmed cases, with more than 1.3 million, and deaths, with more than 58,000. Mexico, the region's second-largest economy, is second among emerging-market nations in Covid-19 deaths – ahead of India, Russia and China. Peru and Chile rank in the top ten among confirmed cases globally1.

So much about virus progression and economic recovery depends on the difficult decisions governments make. Early containment measures in many countries in Asia appear to be paying off in reduced disease incidence.

Lingering challenges

Beyond efforts to contain the virus, policymakers in most of the world's largest economies adopted a "whatever it takes" fiscal approach to prop up vulnerable businesses and individuals. Central banks' liquidity provisions helped stabilise financial markets. Where emerging markets lack the capacity, if not the desire, to respond at a similar scale, they benefit from the spillover effects of functioning markets.

In fact, portfolio flows to emerging markets that had collapsed in recent months have begun to return. New bond issues are increasingly being met with more demand than there is supply, an indication that international investors are hungrily chasing yield. They acknowledge that emerging economies face serious challenges but are nonetheless attractive when the best-yielding developed markets – the United States, Canada and Australia – are barely positive and most others have negative yields.

Many emerging markets depend on commodities exports, particularly oil, and would welcome a rebound in prices. Oil has bounced back in the last two months from prices that had briefly turned negative when broad virus-induced market disruptions were at their greatest. But they're not back to where emerging markets need them to be amid diminished demand and a supply dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia that has subsided but not disappeared.

Another challenge for emerging markets – the US / China trade dispute – predates the coronavirus. Some emerging markets, such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Mexico, may benefit as supply chains are reconfigured. But the lack of a stable economic relationship between the world's two largest economies carries widespread lost-opportunity costs.

Emerging markets growth outlooks

World map diagram showing emerging markets growth outlooks

Implications for investors

In the years since emerging-market countries were punished in the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis and Russia's 1998 debt default, many have learned some valuable lessons. They've acknowledged the economic hazards of corruption, patronage and unconstrained infrastructure development, and embraced the importance of low debt loads, sufficient reserves, adequate growth, low inflation, flexible exchange rates and political stability. Some have done better than others.

The pandemic aside, the attributes that have attracted investors to emerging markets, such as their growth potential amid favourable demographics, remain intact.

To the extent investors believe that an active approach is best-positioned to capitalise on the differences within emerging markets, we espouse low-cost active as a way to remove headwinds. Whether investors choose actively managed or index funds, Vanguard believes in the benefits of global diversification, including a portion of portfolios in emerging markets, and investing for the long term.

Visit Vanguard’s adviser briefings content hub to view their latest live CPD webinars, in-depth articles, and regularly updated commentary designed to guide you through the crisis: www.vanguard.co.uk/advisers

  1. Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center as of June 30, 2020.

Investment risk information:

The value of investments, and the income from them, may fall or rise and investors may get back less than they invested.

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results.

Some funds invest in emerging markets which can be more volatile than more established markets. As a result the value of your investment may rise or fall.

Any projections should be regarded as hypothetical in nature and do not reflect or guarantee future results.

Important information:

This document is directed at professional investors and should not be distributed to, or relied upon by retail investors.

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