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Weekly ETF Brief

Emerging Market Debt: Putting the Best Foot Forward

Investors remain relatively risk averse. That said, there is little evidence that recent market volatility has undermined confidence in emerging market (EM) debt, with the asset class seeing USD 72 billion of inflows during the first four months of the year.1 The high yield offered and relatively low correlation to Treasuries have underpinned the appeal of EM debt.2 The low correlation could become a more significant draw if the Fed decides to undertake further policy tightening and/or the debt ceiling becomes a bigger issue for US Treasuries. 

tempo di lettura 4 min
Senior Fixed Income ETF Strategist

EM Debt in 2023: So Far, So Good

Emerging market (EM) debt has been a theme in the Bond Compass for the past few quarters given historically high yields and the potential for USD declines to support performance. Returns year to date have been positive, with the Bloomberg EM Local Currency Liquid Government Index returning 5.8% to 9 May 2023. This return has been evenly split between currency returns (2.0%), bond price returns (2.0%) and coupons (1.7%). 

As Figure 1 shows, most countries have seen positive returns with Brazil, Columbia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru and Poland all returning in excess of 10% year to date. Three countries have weighed on performance: Israel, South Africa and Turkey, much of which has been the result of political issues. Turkey has a small weight in the index (1.5%) but the extremely negative returns, -21.5%, have resulted in around 40bp of drag. 

Figure 1: Breakdown of YTD Returns for Bloomberg EM local Currency Liquid Government Index


More of the Same, Please

The question on investors’ minds is whether this favourable backdrop for EM will persist. The first 4 months of the year have not been without their challenges. Rising US Treasury yields in February, in response to fears that the Fed would have to tighten more, also pushed EM yields higher. However, in contrast to the issues in March 2022, which saw investors desert EM debt, the problems in the US banking system saw EM local currency yields decline. This is significant, as the uncertainty generated by the nearing of the end of the Fed rate cycle and by US banking problems could easily have led investors to shy away from riskier assets. 

Resilience in EM should have been helped by relatively high levels of conviction that returns from EM debt can remain strong in the coming months. Again, breaking down the stream of returns into the bond, forex and coupon components, all three have the potential to continue to deliver. 

  • We expect bond returns to be the main deriver of returns over the coming 6 months. Easing inflation pressures and the eventual top to US rates may give EM central banks confidence to start cutting rates and not be concerned about a slide in their currencies. Real rates, in many of the LatAm countries in particular, are high and will need to come down.
  • Coupon returns are running at a 4.9% annualised rate so far in 20233. With 4 out of the 18 countries in the index having a yield to maturity of greater than 10%, this rate is likely to rise in the immediate future as the coupon on new bonds that enter the index reflects the higher current market yields. 
  • The long-term model of fair value run by State Street Global Advisors estimates the basket of currencies that make up the Bloomberg EM Local Currency Liquid Government Index to be close to 10% undervalued versus the USD (as at the end of April). In short, there remains plenty of scope for USD depreciation to continue supporting returns. However, if EM central banks do start to ease monetary policy, returns from a weaker USD are unlikely to be as positive as they have been during the past 6 months. 

Please read our index overview to learn more about the differences across EM debt indices. 

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