The money flowing out of emerging market investments has become something of a spectator sport this week. We see different numbers from different sources, but the overall takeaway is the same: Investors are fleeing in big numbers.
Bank of America calls its report on the subject "The First Signs of Panic" and refers to outflows from exchange traded funds as a "stampede." The combined outflows for emerging market equity and debt ETFs totals more than $9-billion (U.S.). That rivals outflows seen during last summer's "taper tantrum," the U.S. debt ceiling crisis of 2011 and even the Lehman crisis of 2008.
But according to Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at Bank of America, there's some good news for contrarian investors here: If the outflows widen to $15-billion over the next two-to-three weeks, it will trigger a buying opportunity.
Of course, not everyone believes the current bout of turbulence is going to pass any time soon, or play out like previous bouts. FT Alphaville has a note from Société Générale, which outlines why the move out of emerging market assets may just be getting started.
For one, the U.S. Federal Reserve signalled this week that turbulence within emerging markets won't affect its decision to wind-down its bond-buying program – or quantitative easing – "which spells more turbulence ahead."
For another, recent outflows still pale next to the huge inflows seen in previous years. Emerging market equity funds saw cumulative net inflows peak at $220-billion in February, 2013. Since then, a cumulative $60-billion has left the funds. "Given the exceptionally strong link between EM equity performance and flows, we think its plausible that funds are currently withdrawing double that from EM equity," the SocGen analysts said.
Investors are not making a distinction among the different emerging markets, even though the bad news is largely concentrated on China (slower growth) and Turkey (sinking currency and rising interest rates). Sure, there is fear of contagion, or the belief that one country's problems can affect other countries. But it's also due to the fact that investors tend to favour mutual funds and ETFs that take a global perspective, rather than honing in on a particular country; when they sell, everything goes down.
But this reaction does suggest that there could be some opportunities if distinctions among countries are made in the near future. Some analysts have pinned most of the recent turbulence on concerns with the so-called "fragile five" developing economies – India, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey and South Africa. Other countries, including Poland and South Korea, have been struggling during the selloff, but they don't appear nearly so fragile. Not yet, at least.