Should you invest in emerging markets right now?

Emerging markets are the place to be if you want to make the best possible returns in the future. At least, that's been the received wisdom for a while now. But is it true?

948_MW_P03_Ed-Letter

Adidas 3D-printed shoes

After all, that's where populations are growing; where the West's manufacturing is migrating too; and where new middle classes are emerging. Right? Maybe. Or maybe not. The latest Barclays Equity Gilt Study suggests something rather different. Population growth is not much higher in emerging markets than in developed ones, for example, so the idea that demographics can drive growth in the latter but not the former holds no water.

More importantly, however, technological progress is in the process of flipping from "supporting faster emerging-market growth through globalisation to undermining it". Until recently it made sense to shift your manufacturing abroad: you could take advantage of cheap labour costs, but use technology to manage the complicated supply chains and logistical challenges that came with doing so.

But if you are looking at things afresh today, it doesn't make so much sense. Automation means it is often cheaper to use robots at home than people abroad. And if that is so, why make your product thousands of miles away from the market you plan to sell it in? There's a demand imperative here too: modern consumers like a little local specialisation and that needs to be done locally. Go to an Adidas store in Germany and you can have custom-fit trainers 3D printed in the shop. Finally, says Barclays, modern automation requires "local collaboration": robots, workers, managers and engineers need to be on site to figure out kinks together. That creates an opportunity cost to outsourcing.

The upside to Trump's trade war

However, it will also "leave the rest of the world with huge productive overcapacity" and see a sharp fall in returns on invested capital as a result. Given that stockmarkets are very much "in the business of measuring returns on capital around the world in real time", where does that make you want to invest? The answer is certainly not emerging markets. Look at it like this, says Barclays, and you might think that the trend for "underperformance of emerging market assets and currencies that began in 2013 is set to continue over a multi-year horizon".

In this week's magazine, Matthew Lynn does not entirely agree, but I find the case pretty compelling. If that leaves you thinking that now might not be the time to up your emerging market exposure, Matthew Partridge gives his view on UK banking shares; Max King gives his thoughts on the value in European markets and the fund he would buy to benefit; we explain why you shouldn't be too gloomy about UK equities; and Richard Beddard gives his take on an interesting firm operating in two very different markets.

Recommended

Fear of missing out – what should investors do now?
Investment strategy

Fear of missing out – what should investors do now?

Markets have rallied from their mid-June lows. But if you missed out, as most investors did, what should you do now? Max King explains.
8 Aug 2022
Where to find inflation-resistant stocks
Investment strategy

Where to find inflation-resistant stocks

Terry Smith’s latest update contains some valuable pointers for investors looking to protect against inflation.
8 Aug 2022
A fond farewell to a MoneyWeek legend
Investment strategy

A fond farewell to a MoneyWeek legend

John Stepek, MoneyWeek’s executive editor, is leaving for fresh pastures. Dominic Frisby shares his thoughts.
5 Aug 2022
The MoneyWeek Podcast: 17 years of change
Economy

The MoneyWeek Podcast: 17 years of change

As John Stepek leaves MoneyWeek after 17 years, he and Merryn look back on what’s changed in that time. From consensus politics to populism; financial…
4 Aug 2022

Most Popular

Are UK house prices finally heading for a crash?
House prices

Are UK house prices finally heading for a crash?

The latest house price figures show a fall of 0.1% in July. With interest rates rising, inflation hitting double figures and a recession on the cards,…
5 Aug 2022
Brace yourself for the return of rationing
Economy

Brace yourself for the return of rationing

Russia is turning off the cheap energy. That is already leading to belt-tightening, says Matthew Lynn. Who will suffer most, and which sectors will th…
5 Aug 2022
Zhao Weiguo: China’s No. 1 chip tycoon vanishes
People

Zhao Weiguo: China’s No. 1 chip tycoon vanishes

Zhao Weiguo rode a decades-long boom in China pursuing Beijing’s core industrial policy of semiconductor self-sufficiency. Then he fell foul of Xi Jin…
5 Aug 2022