Emerging Market Fixed Income: Focusing on Flows

Chief Investment Officer, Fixed Income and Model Portfolios

2013 was not a good year for performance in emerging markets (EM), emerging market fixed income or fixed income in general, outside of U.S. high yield. Interest rates rose, EM currencies generally weakened against the U.S. dollar, and investors were more upbeat about prospects in the developed world than those in the emerging world. While we will provide a more in-depth analysis of specific emerging markets in an upcoming blog post, we thought it might be useful to put 2013 in context of money flows to potentially understand where the market is positioned at the beginning of 2014. Simply put, when there are more sellers than buyers, prices tend to fall. At the most basic level, flows can be a driver of asset prices. According to J.P. Morgan, in 2013 flows into emerging market fixed income occurred at the slowest pace since the global financial crisis. All told, only $9.7 billion flowed into dedicated emerging market fixed income strategies last year, well below the $40 billion historical average run rate1. On the WisdomTree front, the Asia Local Debt Fund (ALD), Emerging Markets Local Debt Fund (ELD) and the Emerging Markets Corporate Bond Fund (EMCB) had net inflows of only $84 million2. However, some interesting and noteworthy trends emerged in 2013 for the asset class. The wide-scale redemptions of emerging market debt generally occurred from retail investors ($9 billion in outflows), whereas many institutional clients took advantage of the increase in relative yields to reduce structural underweights to EM debt. All told, institutional accounts accumulated an estimated $20 billion of emerging market debt in 20133. In spite of the disappointing 2013 performance, there were a few additional bright spots that emerged from the emerging markets. Emerging market corporations came to market last year with a new record annual issuance of $359 billion4. Again, it was predominantly institutional investors that were taking down this record supply. In a trend we noted previously, we believe that the emerging market corporate asset class is only in the very early stages of adoption for many fixed income investors. In our view, a large number of emerging market corporate issuers took advantage of some of the lowest borrowing rates in their history to lock in financing last year, putting them on a much stronger footing to start 2014. J.P. Morgan projects that in 2014, net financing needs for EM corporations will fall 39%, to $143 billion5. Emerging Markets Fixed Income Overview For definitions of indexes in the chart, please visit our Glossary.   Looking to the year ahead, we believe that many of the same elements that drove 2013’s increased adoption of emerging market credits may hold. Namely, improving issuers’ credit profiles, shorter duration than EM USD sovereigns and attractive yield levels (read previous blog post here). Even though U.S. interest rates are currently forecast to rise this year, positioning in emerging market corporate debt tends to be much lighter than other fixed income sectors6. We believe that as developed world growth continues, many of the large, multinational EM corporations will stand to benefit. From a valuation perspective, investment-grade-rated EM issuers now have yields more in line with single-B-rated issuers in the U.S. and Europe7. While total returns may be dampened on account of rising U.S. interest rates, we believe that EM corporates are currently attractively priced against other similar credit quality assets.   1Source: J.P. Morgan, as of 1/8/14. 2Sources: WisdomTree, Bloomberg; as of 12/31/13. 3Source: J.P. Morgan. 4Source: J.P. Morgan. 5Joyce Chang, “Emerging Market Outlook and Strategy,” J.P. Morgan, 1/8/14. 6Source: J.P. Morgan, as of 1/8/14. 7Sources: J.P. Morgan, Standard & Poor’s; as of 1/8/14.

Important Risks Related to this Article

There are risks associated with investing, including possible loss of principal. Foreign investing involves special risks, such as risk of loss from currency fluctuation or political or economic uncertainty. Investments in emerging, offshore or frontier markets are generally less liquid and less efficient than investments in developed markets and are subject to additional risks, such as risks of adverse governmental regulation and intervention or political developments. Derivative investments can be volatile, and these investments may be less liquid than other securities, and more sensitive to the effects of varied economic conditions. Fixed income investments are subject to interest rate risk; their value will normally decline as interest rates rise. In addition, when interest rates fall, income may decline. Fixed income investments are also subject to credit risk, the risk that the issuer of a bond will fail to pay interest and principal in a timely manner, or that negative perceptions of the issuer’s ability to make such payments will cause the price of that bond to decline. Unlike typical exchange-traded funds, there is no index that the Funds attempt to track or replicate. Thus, the ability of the Funds to achieve their objective will depend on the effectiveness of the portfolio manager. Due to the investment strategy of these Funds, they may make higher capital gain distributions than other ETFs. Please read each Fund’s prospectus for specific details regarding each Fund’s risk profile. ALPS Distributors, Inc. is not affiliated with J.P. Morgan.

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About the Contributor
Chief Investment Officer, Fixed Income and Model Portfolios

Rick Harper serves as the Chief Investment Officer, Fixed Income and Model Portfolios at WisdomTree Asset Management, where he oversees the firm’s suite of fixed income and currency exchange-traded funds.  He is also a voting member of the WisdomTree Model Portfolio Investment Committee and takes a leading role in the management and oversight of the fixed income model allocations. He plays an active role in risk management and oversight within the firm.

Rick has over 29 years investment experience in strategy and portfolio management positions at prominent investment firms. Prior to joining WisdomTree in 2007, Rick held senior level strategist roles with RBC Dain Rauscher, Bank One Capital Markets, ETF Advisors, and Nuveen Investments. At ETF Advisors, he was the portfolio manager and developer of some of the first fixed income exchange-traded funds. His research has been featured in leading periodicals including the Journal of Portfolio Management and the Journal of Indexes. He graduated from Emory University and earned his MBA at Indiana University.