Peter Sharkey - Why it’s time for investors to consider emerging markets

Irrespective of what anyone says, we each harbour a variety of prejudices. They could be against (or in favour of) a particular brand of cheese or bread, bank or insurance company, football team or red wine.

Unfortunately, because the word is so common in one specific context, we tend to forget this and unwittingly limit its usage.

From an investment perspective, I have several prejudices.

For example, while I'm always prepared to assume a reasonable level of risk, my preference is to invest in territories where: a) my capital is safe, and b) the return on investment is comparatively reliable and measurable.

Until about two-and-a-half years ago, this approach ensured I was inherently reluctant to consider so-called emerging markets. Faced with the prospect of investing in some countries with nasty, unpredictable political regimes, I preferred less volatile, lower-yielding opportunities closer to home.

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Like all prejudices, however, this attitude was restrictive – in my case, it was severely hampering investment returns. As regular readers will know, I have invested in the USA and in western Europe for more than a decade, but had been reluctant to consider other jurisdictions until my emerging markets epiphany arrived.

While the UK economy lurched and stumbled like a drunken uncle following a global credit crisis and a prolonged bout of domestic economic mismanagement on a scandalous scale, the improved creditworthiness of many emerging markets began to contrast sharply with traditionally 'safe' investment territories.

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Newer markets offered an opportunity to diversify away from developed ones. Furthermore, a combination of ongoing economic reform, positive demographics (ie, younger workforces), improved corporate governance and increasing industrialisation meant that emerging markets had a compelling, longer-term investment tale to tell.

While risk is an integral part of any investment, the real, net of inflation, yields available in several emerging markets, coupled with the possibility of currency appreciation against sterling ensured they could be ignored no longer. I became a fan of emerging market bonds.

These are nowhere near as complicated, nor expensive, as they might sound. Aberdeen Fund Managers, for example, have an emerging-markets bond fund currently yielding 6pc which accepts initial deposits of �500 and increments of �100 thereafter. Launched less than 12 months ago, at the time of writing, the fund has appreciated by around 8pc.

Invesco's dollar-denominated emerging markets bond fund, which offers a prospective yield of 6.21pc, is up by almost 10pc over the past year and has grown by an impressive 75.8pc over the last three years.

Is there a risk to investing in emerging-market bond funds? Of course there is: currency appreciation against sterling or the US dollar could come to an end or head into reverse; economic reform could grind to a halt; industrialisation may falter, and investors should not forget that fund managers rightly expect to be remunerated for generating such impressive returns.

But if the West's protracted economic crisis has had one positive side effect, it's the newly-discovered willingness of investors to set aside their investment prejudices and explore all manner of alternatives as they hunt for reasonable and increasingly less risky returns.

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