Emerging Markets: Looking past Turkey

Turkey’s woes have hit emerging markets. Richard explains where we see long-term EM opportunities.

Worsening relations with the U.S. have spurred a sharp selloff in Turkish assets and exposed economic weaknesses such as large external debt loads and rampant inflation. We see many of these problems as unique to Turkey, yet other EMs have felt the heat. We remain wary of markets with high debt and deteriorating growth, and see long-term opportunities in regions with sound fundamentals, such as EM Asia.

Rising macro uncertainty, higher interest rates and a strengthening U.S. dollar have led to a modest tightening of global financial conditions. This has laid bare vulnerabilities that had, until recently been masked by plentiful global liquidity. Countries reliant on external borrowing to fund growth and large current account deficits—such as Turkey and Argentina—have suffered the most, as the chart above shows. Currencies of both have lost more than 40% against the U.S. dollar this year to date. Yet both Turkey and Argentina are relative outliers within the EM world. Many other EM countries, especially in Asia, appear healthier with improving current account balances. And structural reforms in countries such as China and India are likely to put economies on the path to more sustainable, long-term growth, in our view. See our emerging market marker to compare EMs across key metrics.

Look east

Investors have latched onto Turkey’ s weak fundamentals—bubbling under the surface for years—and rushed for the exits after the country‘s relations with the U.S. took a sharp turn for the worse. Turkey’s woes have brought into sharp focus the dangers of a reliance on external debt-fueled growth. We believe the weakness could persist as markets are skeptical that Turkey will take the necessary steps to address these underlying issues.

The dent to broad EM sentiment is undeniable. Currencies, especially of countries dependent on borrowing in dollars, have sold off. Outflows from equity and debt funds have resumed, according to EPFR. Poor equities and debt performance in 2018 after two strong years has dampened investor appetite. Some safe-haven assets now offer positive real returns and investors see brighter prospects in markets such as the U.S. If the latest proposed U.S. sanctions come down hard on Russia, this could further dent sentiment on EMs.

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Yet the risks of economic or financial contagion to other regions are low, we believe, as several of Turkey’s challenges are unique. Geographical proximity has raised concerns about the impact on Europe. Turkey represents about 3% of euro-zone exports, equivalent to less than 1% of euro-zone GDP, according to the IMF. Turkish loans make up only a small proportion of euro-zone bank lending. Turkish stocks constitute less than 1% of the MSCI EM equity index. And we believe strong earnings growth and attractive valuations overall in EM equities compensate for the risks. Strong growth in developed markets still supports EM economies.

Bottom Line

The prospect of a bumpier road ahead for markets raises the importance of portfolio resilience, a key theme of our midyear Global Investment Outlook. We recommend sticking with markets with strong fundamentals and companies with strong balance sheets. China’s growth is poised to benefit from policy support in the near term. China and India are two of our top EM Asia equity picks. We are neutral on EM debt, with a preference for selected hard- over local-currency debt.

Richard Turnill is BlackRock’s global chief investment strategist. He is a regular contributor to The Blog

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International investing involves special risks including, but not limited to currency fluctuations, illiquidity and volatility. These risks may be heightened for investments in emerging markets.

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