While old stereotypes can at times be shattered by rapid change, it can take a long time for the consensus view to recognize their obsolescence. Such is the case with EM economies, which to this day continue to shake off their old reputations as being dominated by commodities-oriented, extractive industries that ship materials at low cost to fuel the economic engines of wealthier developed markets. While such industries can still play an important role, modern EM economies are much more than that—they’ve diversified to encompass a much broader range of industries and higher-margin goods and services.
Some of the past decade’s biggest EM gains have come in growth industries such as e-commerce, electronic payments, cloud computing services, data centers, online education, and online healthcare diagnostics; growth has also continued apace in more established areas of EM strength, such as semiconductors and computer hardware. Broadly, these are industries where we see an abundance of EM equity opportunities among selected companies that we believe can generate profitable and sustainable growth over the long term―the steady value compounders with strong business fundamentals.
The transformation of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index
A signal of this change is evident in the composition of today’s MSCI Emerging Markets Index, which is much changed from just a decade ago. The rise of EM technology and consumer discretionary stocks has been the key catalyst for this transformation.
As recently as 2010, the combined 28.1% weighting of three sectors that are the source of much of today’s EM growth—consumer discretionary, information technology, and communication services—was just shy of the 28.3% combined share of the more traditionally EM-dominant materials and energy sectors.1 By the end of 2020, the index’s composition had been transformed, with the combined weighting of the trio of more growth-oriented sectors swelling to 47.8% and energy/materials shrinking to 12.9%.1
EM equities: a shift from commodities-oriented sectors toward faster-growing tech and consumer sectors
MSCI Emerging Markets Index combined sector weightings (%) for energy and materials versus consumer discretionary, information technology, and communication services sectors, 2010 to 2020
Source: MSCI Inc., 2021. The MSCI Emerging Markets (EM) Index tracks the performance of publicly traded large- and mid-cap emerging-market stocks. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.
The emergence of new consumer and tech leaders
What produced this dramatic shift? Among the key EM catalysts have been rapid middle-class growth and an accompanying surge in disposable income, which has created rising demand for consumer goods, particularly higher-end items.
Emerging markets dominate wealth gains globally
Average annual percentage growth of wealth per adult in local currencies, selected countries, 2000-2019
Source: Credit Suisse Global wealth databook 2019, Credit Suisse Research Institute, October 2019.
Without these trends, we wouldn’t have seen the rapid growth of Chinese companies in industries such as e-commerce and electronic payments, for example. At the same time, many EM-based technology companies have emerged as global market share leaders or close rivals to developed-market peers, as well as being dominant players in their own domestic markets. In Taiwan and South Korea in particular, we’ve seen companies in the semiconductor and consumer electronics industries vault into the ranks of global brand leaders in recent years.
An example of EM tech- and consumer-oriented companies’ growth can be seen in the presence of three EM-based technology companies among the top five constituents of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index as of March 2021; two consumer discretionary companies occupy the other two slots in the top five.2 Consumer discretionary also boasts the index’s sixth and ninth positions.
Over a decade, the EM share of the worlds’ top consumer brands has grown nearly sixfold
Countries' shares by value (%) of the world's top 25 brands, 2011 to 2021
Source: Global 500 Rankings, Brand Finance, 2021. Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.
A new EM equity landscape opens new opportunities
This is a completely different environment than when we began our EM investing careers decades ago. Since then, the growth of the middle class and its magnified buying power have reshaped EM, and the pandemic’s emergence in early 2020 became a further catalyst for change. In the face of a devastating global health crisis, a select group of firms within specific industries has shown remarkable resilience and even managed to accelerate growth.
Amid supply chain disruptions and other operational challenges, many of these standout companies became beneficiaries of work- and shop-from-home trends, and the strong growth that they experienced before the pandemic in some instances accelerated further. This growth has been most notable in several North Asian markets that we continue to believe will shape the next decade of EM opportunity.
A shift in the storyline
Of course, these sorts of long-term trends rarely play out in an uninterrupted fashion, and that’s been the case in late 2020 and early 2021. The relative performance of some of these companies retreated as investors rotated into a broader grouping of more traditional cyclical stocks and sectors. Many of these segments are expected to benefit more significantly over the short term as economies gradually reopen, with vaccination campaigns and the drive toward herd immunity suggesting a march toward normalization.
Many investors viewed these stocks and sectors as undervalued, given the growth premium that had driven up the prices of many new economy stocks through much of 2020. While there has been a broad recent trend toward economic normalization, it’s important to remember that this trend, too, is unlikely to be synchronous; across developed markets and EM, the success of many countries’ vaccination programs has been uneven, and the emergence of new COVID-19 variants and case surges has produced renewed lockdowns across several important economies. We believe such pandemic-driven unpredictability is likely to persist for the short term.
The bigger picture for new economy stocks
Taking a longer view, we believe that a substantial share of EM earnings growth will be driven by stocks in industries that are beneficiaries of the work- and shop-from-home shift, such as semiconductors, technology hardware, e-commerce, and media and entertainment. In our view, well-managed new economy EM companies with strong business models will continue to provide fertile long-term investment opportunities. However, our experiences as active investors show us that changes in the makeup of the EM equity universe are to be expected, and given this dynamic nature of EM, a focus on longer-term secular growth drivers is best suited for the asset class.
A widespread health crisis such as a global pandemic could cause substantial market volatility, exchange-trading suspensions and closures, and affect portfolio performance. For example, the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has resulted in significant disruptions to global business activity. The impact of a health crisis and other epidemics and pandemics that may arise in the future, could affect the global economy in ways that cannot necessarily be foreseen at the present time. A health crisis may exacerbate other preexisting political, social, and economic risks. Any such impact could adversely affect the portfolio’s performance, resulting in losses to your investment.
Investing involves risks, including the potential loss of principal. Financial markets are volatile and can fluctuate significantly in response to company, industry, political, regulatory, market, or economic developments. These risks are magnified for investments made in emerging markets. Currency risk is the risk that fluctuations in exchange rates may adversely affect the value of a portfolio’s investments.
The information provided does not take into account the suitability, investment objectives, financial situation, or particular needs of any specific person. You should consider the suitability of any type of investment for your circumstances and, if necessary, seek professional advice.
This material is intended for the exclusive use of recipients in jurisdictions who are allowed to receive the material under their applicable law. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are subject to change without notice. Our investment teams may hold different views and make different investment decisions. These opinions may not necessarily reflect the views of Manulife Investment Management or its affiliates. The information and/or analysis contained in this material has been compiled or arrived at from sources believed to be reliable, but Manulife Investment Management does not make any representation as to their accuracy, correctness, usefulness, or completeness and does not accept liability for any loss arising from the use of the information and/or analysis contained. The information in this material may contain projections or other forward-looking statements regarding future events, targets, management discipline, or other expectations, and is only current as of the date indicated. The information in this document, including statements concerning financial market trends, are based on current market conditions, which will fluctuate and may be superseded by subsequent market events or for other reasons. Manulife Investment Management disclaims any responsibility to update such information.
Neither Manulife Investment Management or its affiliates, nor any of their directors, officers or employees shall assume any liability or responsibility for any direct or indirect loss or damage or any other consequence of any person acting or not acting in reliance on the information contained here. All overviews and commentary are intended to be general in nature and for current interest. While helpful, these overviews are no substitute for professional tax, investment or legal advice. Clients should seek professional advice for their particular situation. Neither Manulife, Manulife Investment Management, nor any of their affiliates or representatives is providing tax, investment or legal advice. This material was prepared solely for informational purposes, does not constitute a recommendation, professional advice, an offer or an invitation by or on behalf of Manulife Investment Management to any person to buy or sell any security or adopt any investment strategy, and is no indication of trading intent in any fund or account managed by Manulife Investment Management. No investment strategy or risk management technique can guarantee returns or eliminate risk in any market environment. Diversification or asset allocation does not guarantee a profit or protect against the risk of loss in any market. Unless otherwise specified, all data is sourced from Manulife Investment Management. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
Manulife Investment Management
Manulife Investment Management is the global wealth and asset management segment of Manulife Financial Corporation. We draw on more than a century of financial stewardship to partner with clients across our institutional, retail, and retirement businesses globally. Our specialist approach to money management includes the highly differentiated strategies of our fixed-income, specialized equity, multi-asset solutions, and private markets teams—along with access to specialized, unaffiliated asset managers from around the world through our multimanager model.
This material has not been reviewed by, is not registered with any securities or other regulatory authority, and may, where appropriate, be distributed by the following Manulife entities in their respective jurisdictions. Additional information about Manulife Investment Management may be found at manulifeim.com/institutional
Australia: Hancock Natural Resource Group Australasia Pty Limited., Manulife Investment Management (Hong Kong) Limited. Brazil: Hancock Asset Management Brasil Ltda. Canada: Manulife Investment Management Limited, Manulife Investment Management Distributors Inc., Manulife Investment Management (North America) Limited, Manulife Investment Management Private Markets (Canada) Corp. China: Manulife Overseas Investment Fund Management (Shanghai) Limited Company. European Economic Area Manulife Investment Management (Ireland) Ltd. which is authorised and regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland Hong Kong: Manulife Investment Management (Hong Kong) Limited. Indonesia: PT Manulife Aset Manajemen Indonesia. Japan: Manulife Investment Management (Japan) Limited. Malaysia: Manulife Investment Management (M) Berhad 200801033087 (834424-U) Philippines: Manulife Asset Management and Trust Corporation. Singapore: Manulife Investment Management (Singapore) Pte. Ltd. (Company Registration No. 200709952G) South Korea: Manulife Investment Management (Hong Kong) Limited. Switzerland: Manulife IM (Switzerland) LLC. Taiwan: Manulife Investment Management (Taiwan) Co. Ltd. United Kingdom: Manulife Investment Management (Europe) Ltd. which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority United States: John Hancock Investment Management LLC, Manulife Investment Management (US) LLC, Manulife Investment Management Private Markets (US) LLC and Hancock Natural Resource Group, Inc. Vietnam: Manulife Investment Fund Management (Vietnam) Company Limited.
Manulife Investment Management, the Stylized M Design, and Manulife Investment Management & Stylized M Design are trademarks of The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company and are used by it, and by its affiliates under license.