Gain in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index: 12%

By Simeon Hyman | February 3, 2012
  • What's Happening

    What's Happening

    Conventional investment-strategist wisdom assumes that emerging-market stocks do well during periods of easy money -- usually defined as times in which central banks maintain low interest-rate policies. Times like these, in other words. The reasoning: Easy money stimulates speculation in such risky assets as emerging markets. The Federal Reserve, the biggest of all central banks, signaled in January that it will maintain its record-low interest rates through 2014 -- a full six years after it first dropped its benchmark rate to 0.25 percent. And so far this year, as of early February, emerging markets have returned just above 12 percent, more than double the return of the S&P 500-stock index.

    Photograph by Justin Mott/Bloomberg

  • Why It Matters

    Why it Matters

    The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is up 132 percent from the lows following the Lehman Bros. bankruptcy, again roughly double the 61 percent return in the S&P 500. These kinds of returns don't come without risk. Prompted by concerns about U.S. growth and the European debt crisis, emerging-market stocks dropped nearly twice as much as the S&P 500 during the 2011 "summer swoon" in equity markets. Nevertheless, Bob Doll, chief equity strategist at BlackRock, noted on Bloomberg TV that he's looking to raise his stake in emerging-market stocks on the expectation that lower rates in developing countries "will set the stage" for stock market "outperformance."

  • What It Means for Your Portfolio

    What it Means for Your Portfolio

    Because rates will likely stay low for a couple years, the time may be right to consider a stake in these markets, the largest of which include China, Brazil and South Korea. Emerging-markets stocks trade at slightly more than 80 percent of the S&P 500's price-earnings ratio, down from 110 percent in mid-2009 and below pre-financial crisis levels. Also, emerging-market forecasters surveyed by Bloomberg predict growth triple that of the U.S. over the next couple years. The elephant in the room: the European sovereign-debt crisis. Low rates may not be enough to provide salvation should the European crisis worsen -- even for emerging markets.

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