Many investors have played the emerging market growth story by investing in well-established, domestic companies with significant revenues from emerging markets. As stocks from emerging markets have become more transparent in terms of their disclosures and have started to allocate a higher share of their earnings towards dividends, thereby boosting yields, they have lured the attention of international investors in pursuit of a meaningful yield.
The appeal of emerging market stocks has increased as the share of retained earnings set aside to pay dividends has dropped below the long-term average of 35%, driven by strong growth. This suggests that there is room for additional dividend hikes in the future. At the same time, the current dividend yield on emerging market stocks is above the long-term average.
While it is still advisable to play the international markets by investing in the shares of reputed U.S.- or EU-based companies, investors can capture high yields in emerging markets-in addition to high growth that traditionally has produced large capital gains-by investing directly in a small, select group of reputed emerging market stocks. Investors should note, however, that dividends paid in local currencies will also carry foreign exchange risk.
Here is a quick overview of five emerging market stocks that should appeal to income investors in a yield-starved environment:
China Mobile Limited (CHL) is a Chinese wireless communications giant with a total market capitalization of $220 billion. The company has 677 million customers, which dwarfs Verizon's customer base by six times. China Mobile pays a dividend yield of 3.7% on a payout ratio of 42%. The company has raised dividends at a healthy 14.3% average annual rate over the past five years. It has seen its EPS grow at 14% per year over the same period, but that rate is expected to slow down substantially. It has debt to equity of 4% and a free cash flow yield of 16.2%. The stock is a pure play on the Chinese consumer. In fact, by 2020, the number of Chinese citizens earning at least $6,000 per year will surge by 400 million. The stock is trading at $54.81 a share, up 16.4% in a year. Among fund managers, the stock is popular with Israel Englander and Cliff Asness.
Banco Santander-Chile (BSAC) is Chile's largest banking corporation by asset size. It has a market cap of $14 billion. Its dividend yield is 2.9% and a payout ratio is low at 44%. The bank has increased its dividend at an average rate of 8.6% per year over the past five years. Over the same period, the bank's EPS expanded at an average rate of 7.8%, while its EPS is forecast to accelerate growth to 13.6% per year for the next half decade. This growth has been buoyed by a robust expansion of the Chilean economy, which is forecast to grow 4.4% in 2012. This growth rate compares to a contraction in most of Europe and weak growth in the U.S. and China. The bank has a price-to-book ratio of 3.45 and an ROE of 20.3%. Banco Santander-Chile's stock is trading at $78.5 a share, down 17% in a year. The stock price has been affected by the financial turmoil associated with its parent bank Banco Santander (SAN), which saw its credit rating cut in May due to funding concerns. The price level at which the stock has stabilized may represent an attractive entry point. In view of the recent downgrade of its parent company Banco Santander of Spain, Standard & Poor's affirmed the Chilean bank's investment grade rating with stable outlook. This bank is of systemic importance for the Chilean financial system and, if under any stress, it could easily receive support from the Chilean government, which mitigates any risks associated with the lack of support from its parent. Standard & Poor's believes that the "bank's performance and asset quality will remain healthy, with a ROAA of 2.0%-2.5%, a 10% loan portfolio growth, and a 60% dividend payout for 2012." The stock is popular with Lee Ainslie and Ken Fisher.
Banco de Chile (BCH) is a banking corporation in Chile established in 1893. By asset size, it is the second largest banking group in the nation. The bank has a market cap of $12.4 billion. It pays a dividend yield of 3.4% on a payout ratio of 47%. The bank has increased dividends at an average rate of 12.5% per year over the past five years. Over the same period, the bank's EPS increased 29.4% per year, on average. The rate of EPS growth is expected to moderate to 12.3% per year for the next half decade. Like Banco Santander-Chile, this peer will benefit from the robust growth in the Chilean economy. The stock has a price-to-book ratio of 3.5 and an ROE of 27.8%. Banco de Chile's shares are trading at close to $84 a share, down slightly by 3% in a year. Billionaires Jim Simons and D.E. Shaw hold positions in the stock (check out Shaw's top picks).
PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia (TLK) is a telecom and network services operator based in Indonesia. The company has a market cap of $17 billion. It pays a dividend yield of 3.3% on a payout ratio of 46%. The stock has seen its dividend grow at an average rate of 5.2% per year over the past five years. While its EPS saw a small contraction over the same period, it is expected to expand at an 8.7% average rate for the next five years. The stock has a debt-to-equity ratio of 39% and a free cash flow yield of 6%. PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia operates in a nation exhibiting strong growth. The telecom operator has grown its large customer base to 115 million in 2011, which again exceeds the number of Verizon's subscribers. The stock is trading at $34.64 a share, up 3% on a year. Billionaires Jim Simons, D.E. Shaw, and Israel Englander are fans of the stock.
Gold Fields Ltd. (GFI) is a gold exploration and mining company, South Africa's second largest after AngloGold Ashanti (AU). It has a market cap of $9 billion. The gold producer pays a dividend yield of 4.9% on a payout ratio of 46%. Its dividend has increased at an average rate of 9.6% per year over the past five years. At the same time, EPS growth averaged 36% per year. While the company's EPS is forecast to contract, on average, for the next five years, the company's high yield, exceeding by a significant margin the yields on 10-year Treasury bond, the S&P500 index, and the industry, makes it an attractive income play. In addition, many industry analysts expect gold prices to hover around the current levels or to move higher, in expectations of an additional monetary policy stimulus. Higher gold prices could trickle down to higher EPS growth as this gold producer does not hedge its production. The stock has a debt-to-equity of 34% and a free cash flow yield of 8.5%. The beaten down stock price (lower 16% from year ago) makes the current levels attractive entry points. The stock is trading at $12.25 a share. It is popular with billionaires John Paulson and Jim Simons.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.