Emerging markets ("EM") government bonds, particularly those denominated in local currencies, have bounced back in 2016. It's time to look again at what they can offer.
The past few years have not been kind to EM local currency bonds. Falling commodity prices and concerns about slowing global growth resulted in weak performance across many EM asset classes. Local currency bonds were particularly impacted by the robust U.S. dollar, which remained strong throughout 2015, and the prospect of four potential Federal Open Market Committee rate hikes in 2016. These headwinds caused investors to push valuations down to levels of extreme weakness, particularly on several EM currencies, which may have been oversold heading into 2016.
Q1 Tailwinds Provide Support
However, the Federal Reserve's sentiment may have changed. The Fed appears to be taking a more dovish stance and the market is now expecting fewer rate hikes this year. Some immediate results could include a pullback in the U.S. dollar and the re-emergence of a risk-on appetite. These tailwinds have been strengthened by the first quarter rebound in commodity prices and the prospect of pro-growth political reform in several EM countries.
EM local currency bonds benefited from these supportive factors, which contributed to a return of 11.02% in the first quarter, as represented by the J.P. Morgan GBI-EM Diversified Index, significantly outperforming EM hard currency sovereign bonds and corporates. Every country in the index had both positive local bond market returns and currency appreciation for the period. Dedicated local currency funds also received significant inflows towards the end of the quarter.
Positive Flows as Investors Take Notice
Why the positive flows? After years of volatility and weak performance, EM local currency bonds may be underrepresented in many investors' portfolios. In addition to market conditions being favorable in the first quarter, local currency bonds have some particularly attractive characteristics that stem from two distinct sources of return they provide: local interest rates and currencies.
Because of these distinct drivers of return, local currency EM bonds have exhibited low historical correlations with other segments of the fixed income market, especially core U.S. investment grade sectors, as shown below. Local currency EM bonds have also historically provided higher yields versus other EM bond sectors, with an investable universe that tends to be skewed more towards higher quality issuers. For example, 84% of local currency EM government bonds were rated investment grade at the end of the quarter, versus 63% of those denominated in hard currencies, as measured by the BofA Merrill Lynch Emerging Markets External Sovereign Index.
Low Correlation to Certain U.S. Fixed Income Sectors
As of March 31, 2016
Historically Higher Yields Versus Other EM Sectors
As of March 31, 2016
These unique drivers of return are also sources of risk, and should be considered along with credit, economic, political and other risks associated with EM investments.
We believe that local currency EM bonds may potentially provide unique diversification benefits within a global fixed income portfolio, with both potentially higher yields and higher credit quality versus other EM fixed income sectors. For investors who have reduced their exposure in recent years, we believe it is a market worth revisiting.
Investors interested in this space may find easy access to local currency denominated bonds issued by emerging markets governments through VanEck Vectors J.P. Morgan EM Local Currency Bond ETF (EMLC).
1 Source: J.P. Morgan Emerging Markets Bond Index Monitor, as of 3/31/16.
2 Correlation measures how two securities move in relation to each other.
This content is published in the United States for residents of specified countries. Investors are subject to securities and tax regulations within their applicable jurisdictions that are not addressed on this content. Nothing in this content should be considered a solicitation to buy or an offer to sell shares of any investment in any jurisdiction where the offer or solicitation would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction, nor is it intended as investment, tax, financial, or legal advice. Investors should seek such professional advice for their particular situation and jurisdiction.
The indices listed are unmanaged indices and do not reflect the payment of transaction costs, advisory fees, or expenses that are associated with an investment in any underlying exchange-traded funds. Historical performance is not indicative of future results; current data may differ from data quoted. Indexes are unmanaged and are not securities in which an investment can be made.
JPMorgan GBI-EM Global Diversified Index (GBI-EM) tracks local currency denominated EM government debt.
BofA Merrill Lynch Emerging Markets External Sovereign Index (EMGB) tracks US dollar and Euro denominated EM government debt.
The asset classes referenced in the charts are represented by the following indices: High Yield Bonds: Barclays US Corporate High Yield Index measures the market of U.S. dollar denominated, non-investment grade, fixed-rate, taxable corporate bonds. Investment Grade Corporate Bonds: Barclays US Corporate Investment Grade Index tracks the investment grade, fixed-rate, taxable, corporate bond market. Inflation Linked Bonds: Barclays US Government Inflation Linked Index tracks US Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) with at least one year until final maturity Broad US Investment Grade: Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index tracks the investment grade, U.S. dollar-denominated, fixed-rate taxable bond market, including Treasuries, government-related and corporate securities, MBS, ABS and CMBS. Treasuries: Barclays US Treasury Index tracks U.S. dollar-denominated, fixed-rate debt with at least one year until final maturity issued by the U.S. Treasury. EM Local Sovereigns: JPMorgan GBI-EM Global Diversified Index (GBI-EM) tracks local currency denominated EM government debt. EM USD & EUR Sovereigns: BofA Merrill Lynch Emerging Markets External Sovereign Index (EMGB) tracks US dollar and Euro denominated EM government debt. EM USD Corporates: BofA Merrill Lynch US Emerging Markets Liquid Corporate Plus Index (EMCL) tracks the US dollar denominated nongovernment debt of EM.
Diversification does not assure a profit nor protect against loss.
An investment in the Fund may be subject to risk which include, among others, credit risk, call risk, interest rate risk, and sovereign defaults, all of which may adversely affect the Fund. High yield bonds may be subject to greater risk of loss of income and principal and are likely to be more sensitive to adverse economic changes than higher rated securities. International investing involves additional risks which include greater market volatility, the availability of less reliable financial information, higher transactional and custody costs, taxation by foreign governments, decreased market liquidity and political instability. Changes in currency exchange rates may negatively impact the Fund's return. Investments in emerging markets securities are subject to elevated risks which include, among others, expropriation, confiscatory taxation, issues with repatriation of investment income, limitations of foreign ownership, political instability, armed conflict and social instability. The Fund's assets may be concentrated in a particular sector and may be subject to more risk than investments in a diverse group of sectors.
VanEck Vectors J.P. Morgan EM Local Currency Bond ETF [EMLC] is not sponsored, endorsed, sold or promoted by J.P. Morgan and J.P. Morgan makes no representation regarding the advisability of investing in EMLC. J.P. Morgan does not warrant the completeness or accuracy of the J.P. Morgan GBI-EMG Core Index. "J.P. Morgan" is a registered service mark of JPMorgan Chase & Co. © 2016. JPMorgan Chase & Co. All rights reserved.
Investing involves substantial risk and high volatility, including possible loss of principal. Bonds and bond funds will generally decrease in value as interest rates rise. An investor should consider the investment objective, risks, charges and expenses of the Fund carefully before investing. To obtain a prospectus and summary prospectus, which contains this and other information, call 800.826.2333 or visit vaneck.com/etfs. Please read the prospectus and summary prospectus carefully before investing.