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30 Jul 2021 - Have Emerging Market Funds Passed Their Used-By Date? Part I
By: Premium China Funds Management

Have Emerging Market Funds Passed Their Used-By Date? Part I

Premium China Funds Management

July 2021

Click here for Part II of this series

Our contention is that use by date of Emerging Market  (EM) funds has passed and that this has quietly happened over the last decade without much notice.   In Part One of this discussion we will look at the make up of EM Indices and their comparison to Asia ex-Japan funds.

What we will outline is that a decision to invest in an EM fund is already mainly a decision to invest in Greater China and the rest of Asia ex-Japan.  What is leftover in EM are countries that are speculative commodity countries largely with questionable or poor governance.  We contend that there are better ways of accessing resources and commodities than via a generalist manager.  Specialists for both are the better way to improve investment outcomes.   

As well it is reasonable to think that some of the emerging markets - particularly Greater China have in fact emerged. What that means for investing is a rethink about asset allocations.

Let's start our discussion with a quick look at Emerging markets.  Following is a framework for assessing emerging market status[1]:

  1. Lower-Than-Average Per Capita Income

    The World Bank defines developing countries as those with per capita income of $3,995 or less.
  2. Brisk Economic Growth
  3. High Volatility
  4. Currency Swings
  5. Potential For Growth - successful, rapid growth can also lead to the fifth characteristic, which is the higher-than-average return for investors.  That's because many of these countries focus on an export-driven strategy. They don't have the demand at home, so they produce lower-cost consumer goods and commodities for export to developed markets[1].

In China, Taiwan and Korea, and to some extent India, however you can already see a clear shift to consumer led economies vs export led.

Let's start by breaking down the Emerging markets.  If you consider the table below - Emerging Market Breakdown using the MSCI - what you can clearly see is that 75% of the index is made up of four Asian countries: China, Taiwan, Korea and India.  Some EM indices also include Hong Kong which would further increase the dominant Asia exposure.

Looking into the smaller weights, we then come to a group of four which represent the next 14% of the index.  Brazil, South Africa, Russia and Saudi Arabia.  These countries have two things in common in our view:


  1. They are all commodity countries which we contend are best invested in through a global resource or commodity specialist manager.
  2. For different reasons, they also have questionable governance or corruption concerns, further increasing the need for specialist understanding, if not on the ground presence.

The final cohort of 19 countries in total represent only 11% of the index and individually and together are largely rounding errors, without also considering the Social and Governance challenges some face.


Emerging Market Breakdown (per MSCI 31.3.2021)
Note:  8 other countries are included in some EM indices - e.g., Hong Kong & Vietnam


Let's now dive a little deeper and look at the next chart which shows that an EM investment is effectively already an Asia ex-Japan investment with a dominant exposure to Greater China.


EM and Asia ex-Japan deeper dive

These charts show that investing in Emerging Markets IS already an Asia ex-Japan investment, but:

  • With the addition of volatile and mostly detractor countries, and
  • Missing what is arguably the strongest global thematic of all - an historic and enormous rise of middle class out of poverty.

So, to us this reinforces our contention that specialists are a better approach to investing in emerging markets.  Use of an Asia ex-Japan specialist with a deep China understanding combined with a Global resources or Commodities specialist makes more sense than an allocation to a generalist EM fund.

[1] Source: Emerging Market Countries and their 5 Defining Characteristics; Kimberley Adao; Aug 2020

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Premium Asia Income FundPremium Asia Property FundPremium China FundPremium Asia Fund

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