U.S. stocks are having a rough go of it on Wednesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) and the broader S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) are down 0.90% and 0.87%, respectively, at 12:45 p.m. EDT. The Nasdaq Composite was down 0.89%.
In yesterday's column, I highlighted investors' extreme negative sentiment regarding emerging markets and the opportunity this has created for patient, value-driven investors. If you want more evidence of the former phenomenon, just check the front-page headline of this morning's Financial Times: Emerging markets rocked by $1tn [trillion] capital flight as confidence slumps (link opens video -- sign-up may be required). According to the article, this capital outflow tsunami, which has gathered speed over the past 13 months, is "roughly double the amount that left during the financial crisis"!
However, while I think the MSCI Emerging Markets Index is cheap, for investors willing (and capable) of making the effort, there are better ways to seize the opportunity. While the term "emerging markets" has been extremely successful from a marketing angle, it masks a huge diversity in terms of maturity, growth, governance, etc. -- this is hardly a homogeneous asset class! Thus, differentiating between these markets and investing in those that offer the best value will have an enormous effect on results.
Two of the markets I like best within this group are South Korea and Taiwan. The iShares MSCI South Korea Capped ETF (NYSEMKT:EWY) and the iShares MSCI Taiwan ETF (NYSEMKT:EWT) have been pummeled over the past 12 months, along with the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (NYSEMKT:EEM):
Both South Korea and Taiwan are export-led economies, and fears of a slowdown in global economic growth have no doubt unsettled investors. More specifically, China-related concerns weigh heavily on these markets, given their economies' dependency on the Middle Kingdom.
However, both economies also possess a distinct competitive advantage in an exodus of foreign capital from emerging markets: A very healthy current account surplus, which drives an accumulation of foreign exchange reserves. And they look attractively priced on the basis of earnings multiples, with the MSCI South Korea ETF trading at 10 times, and the MSCI Taiwan on offer at 13 times.
Having drilled down from the asset class level ("emerging markets") to the country level, in an upcoming column, I'll take a look at some individual companies in this markets for you stock-pickers.
Nevertheless, I can't help but offer some words of caution before signing off. Making active bets on countries (and individual stocks) is not a job for the beginning investor. Bear in mind the words of Rajiv Jain, chief investment officer at Vontobel Asset Management and Morningstar's 2012 international-stock fund manager of the year, who recently told Swiss daily Le Temps: "With regard to geography, individual investors ought to avoid investing in emerging markets, which asset class is unsuitable for them."