Finance

Duncan Mavin is a former Bloomberg Gadfly columnist.

There's no getting away from it: investors just can't stand the sight of financial services firms exposed to emerging markets, especially China.

Shanghai Blues
The Shanghai Composite Index has slumped since June
Source: Bloomberg data

Standard Chartered has been punished for it, with the stock down 40 percent in the past year. Aberdeen shares have followed emerging markets downwards, sliding 43 percent, and Ashmore's also tumbling.

An optimistic reading of the emerging market investor's Thursday update on trading in the final three months of 2015 is that net outflows may be close to a bottom.

Assets under management fell by $1.7 billion. That was still much better than the $4 billion in net outflows in the previous quarter and the slowest rate of decline in more than a year. Investment performance was flat, better than the $3.8 billion of losses in the previous three months.

Ashmore's Outflows
Source: Bloomberg data
Note: dates refer to Ashmore's fiscal year

The money manager says its funds have been buying as the slump drove asset prices lower. While that hurt performance as the slide deepened even further, Ashmore hopes it will result in a steeper upswing when an improvement comes.

But it's tough to be positive on Ashmore unless you believe a turnaround in China is on the cards soon. While most of its investments are in fixed income, sentiment on its shares tracks closely to gyrations in Chinese equities, as shown by the chart below.

China Slide
Ashmore and Aberdeen have slumped amid turmoil in China
Source: Bloomberg data

Ashmore shares trade at about 10.7 times earnings, about a 50 percent discount to the average of its peer group, according to Bloomberg data. Schroders, by comparison, trades at about 15 times.

The other emerging market specialists face the same problem. Their shares have been pummelled, but it's probably too early for most investors to spy green shoots of recovery.

A new management team at Standard Chartered recently set out a restructuring plan for the bank and plans to steady the balance sheet. At Aberdeen, the firm is diversifying and cutting costs. But these efforts take time -- and the bigger problem is there is nothing any of the firms can do to shift the dial on emerging markets.

Those continue to face the triple threat of China's currency devaluation, a stronger dollar boosted by rising interest rates, and weak commodities. So the signs are that these companies will have to hunker down for longer.

"The market weakness and volatility experienced in early 2016, notably in Chinese equity markets, will doubtless lead to some investors maintaining a cautious stance," Ashmore CEO Mark Coombs noted on Thursday. That sounds just about right.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Duncan Mavin in London at dmavin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Edward Evans at eevans3@bloomberg.net