This Time It's Different, as Emerging Stocks Top World

Emerging-market stocks are trading at the highest valuations relative to advanced-country shares in more than two years as faster economic growth persuades the biggest investors to look past historical sell signals.

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is valued at 14.1 times reported profits and 1.9 times net assets, compared with ratios of 14.9 and 1.7 for the MSCI World Index, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. When developing-nation equities traded at these levels versus advanced-country stocks in June 2008, the emerging gauge sank 48 percent in four months and trailed the MSCI World index by 16 percentage points.

HSBC Global Asset Management, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank AG say this time is different because developing nations have less debt, more profitable companies and are growing twice as fast as advanced economies. Global money managers are more bullish on emerging markets than any region, while mutual fund investors poured $35 billion into the countries this year, even as they pulled $28 billion from the U.S., Europe and Japan, data from Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. show.

“There is a case for a re-rating of emerging markets relative to the developed world,” said Philip Poole, the London-based global head of macro and investment strategy at HSBC Global, which oversees more than $400 billion and holds more developing-nation shares than are represented in benchmark indexes. “The fundamentals have changed.”

World-Beating Gains

The MSCI emerging gauge climbed 0.5 percent at 9:09 a.m. in New York after the International Monetary Fund boosted its growth forecast for South Korea and a report showed U.S. jobless claims fell. The MSCI World index rose 0.1 percent, while futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index were little changed.

Emerging markets’ share of world equity capitalization climbed to a record 25 percent in August, up from 22 percent a year ago, as the stocks outperformed developed markets amid signs that economic recoveries in the U.S. and Japan have slowed, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The MSCI emerging gauge declined 2.2 percent last month and was little changed this year through yesterday. The MSCI World sank 3.9 percent in August and is down 4.9 percent since December.

All 10 of the world’s best-performing major benchmark equity indexes last month were in developing countries, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Sri Lanka’s Colombo All-Share Index rallied 9.6 percent as slowing inflation spurred the central bank to cut one of its benchmark interest rates to the lowest level in almost six years. Thailand’s SET Index rose 6.7 percent after anti-government protests eased and exports climbed. Colombia’s IGBC Index gained 6.2 percent as investors speculated the country’s credit rating will be increased.

Debt Burdens

A net 38 percent of money managers who invest worldwide had “overweight” positions in emerging markets last month, up from 34 percent in July, a Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey showed. Money managers had “underweight” holdings in the U.S., Japan and the U.K, according to the survey of investors who oversee about $513 billion.

“There’s a growing feeling that emerging markets are where the future lies and the traditional way of looking at emerging markets as a risky play on the developed markets is no longer valid,” Julian Mayo, who helps oversee about $2.8 billion as an investment director in London at Charlemagne Capital, said in a phone interview. “You’ve got the element of economic independence and you’ve also got better earnings.”

Bigger Returns

South Korea, Indonesia and Chile reported second-quarter economic growth of more than 6 percent, exceeding the median forecasts in Bloomberg surveys. China expanded at a 10.3 percent rate in the quarter, overtaking Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy. Japan grew at a 0.4 percent pace during the period, while U.S. expansion slowed to 1.6 percent.

Smaller debt burdens will help developing countries grow 6.4 percent as a group next year, topping the 2.4 percent expansion in advanced nations, according to forecasts from the Washington-based International Monetary Fund. Emerging-market debt will amount to about 40 percent of gross domestic product this year, compared with 107 percent in advanced nations, IMF estimates show.

Companies in the MSCI emerging index will boost profits 29 percent in the next year, topping 28 percent growth for MSCI World companies, according to more than 5,000 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Emerging-market companies are also finding better opportunities to reinvest their earnings, producing a return on equity of 14.8 percent, compared with 10.2 percent in the developed world, according to Morgan Stanley.

‘Structural Premium’

“The major fundamental reason to expect further outperformance of emerging-market equities versus developed- market equities is the superior return on equity,” Jonathan Garner, the chief Asian and emerging-market strategist at New York-based Morgan Stanley, wrote in an Aug. 25 research note. He estimates the MSCI emerging index will extend its gain over the MSCI World this year to as much as 20 percentage points from about 5 percentage points as of yesterday.

The only time during the past decade that emerging-market shares were valued at premium price-earnings ratios to developed markets was the 10-month period ended May 2008, just before credit markets froze and spurred a collapse in global equity prices, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The MSCI emerging index has traded at an average discount of about 30 percent to the MSCI World index during the past 10 years, the data show.

Crisis Losses

The MSCI emerging gauge underperformed advanced-nation shares during times of financial stress that sparked global losses during the past two decades including Latin America’s “Tequila Crisis” in 1994 after Mexico’s peso devaluation and Russia’s default on $40 billion of debt in 1998. The peak-to- trough drop in the emerging-market index was 12 percentage points bigger on average during the six retreats, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“You would want to see emerging markets handle not just one economic cycle, but several economic cycles, and see some of these gains cemented into place before you can talk about a structural premium,” Stefan Hofer, an emerging-markets equity strategist in Zurich at Bank Julius Baer & Co., which oversees about $160 billion worldwide, said in an interview.

The MSCI emerging gauge’s price-earnings ratio is still 22 percent below its level of 18 in October 2007, when the index hit an all-time high, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The gauge is valued at 11 times analysts’ earnings estimates for the next 12 months, compared with 11.7 for the MSCI World index, the data show.

‘Very Confident’

Templeton Asset Management Ltd.’s Mark Mobius said in an interview with Bloomberg Radio on Aug. 20 that he’s “very, very confident” buying emerging-market equities because of faster economic growth and lower debt levels than advanced nations.

Mobius, who oversees about $34 billion in developing countries, said his biggest holdings are Brazilian shares including Sao Paulo-based BRF - Brasil Foods SA, a processor of poultry, pasta and soybeans. The stock trades at 51 times reported earnings, and analysts predict profits will climb 76 percent next year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The valuation compares with a price-earnings ratio of 13 for Omaha- based ConAgra Foods Inc., which is forecast to boost profits by about 9 percent, the data show.

Rich Valuations

China Dongxiang Group Co., a Hong Kong-based sportswear retailer, is a top pick at Morgan Stanley. The shares trade for 13.4 times reported profits, compared with 10.3 times for New York-based Jones Apparel Group Inc. Dongxiang Group’s projected annual growth rate of 14 percent during the next three to five years compares with the 9 percent forecast for Jones Apparel, according to analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

“In emerging markets, valuations are getting rich because you know the long-term story is very strong,” Frederick Searby, a New York-based Latin America equity strategist at Deutsche Bank, said in an interview. “The growth prospects are much better.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Michael Patterson in London at mpatterson10@bloomberg.net; Tal Barak Harif in New York at tbarak@bloomberg.net.

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