Take control of emerging markets with minimum volatility

Volatility may scare investors from EM. A minimum volatility strategy helps alleviate this concern while affording opportunities for enhanced returns.

Since the launch of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index in 2001[1], emerging market equities (EM) have rewarded investors with a per year excess return of over 4% above developed markets[2]. The thesis for investing in EM is really quite simple: riskier, less transparent, less mature, and less followed markets should reward long-term investors with increased growth prospects and diversified sources of return. So if investing in EM provides benefits any rational investor would appreciate, why are many investors reluctant to allocate to EM within their portfolio? We find many investors look at the allocation as a standalone investment, and are dissuaded by the risks and potential for large draw-downs within this market. This view fails to fully appreciate the potential benefits of diversification that an EM allocation may provide. Thus, investors often leave a potentially attractive excess return opportunity and a source of diversified returns, sitting on the table, untapped.

This conversation is especially relevant now. It’s no secret that EM has struggled with the escalation of trade wars and a rising dollar. In fact, in 2018, EM lagged the developed world by almost 6%[3]! While this difference in returns is quite significant, so too is the opportunity when looking at historical trends.

Excess return of Emerging Markets

How to ante up in Emerging Markets

If the long-term return premium for EM is persistent and the entry point remains attractive, the question on how to approach the associated risks remains. Some investors are able to take a long-term view and bear the brunt of draw-downs in the asset class in order to participate in the upside when markets rebound.  However, given the widespread under-allocation to EM within the portfolio of many of our clients, we believe most individual investors aren’t in this camp.  For those who are skittish about the volatility of EM equities, minimum volatility investments might be a more palatable exposure to the asset class. Funds such as the iShares Edge MSCI Min Vol Emerging Markets ETF (EEMV), seek to track indices that aim to provide broad exposure to an asset class but in a manner designed to reduce risk.

True to its design, EEMV has historically provided investors with downside risk mitigation. In 2018, EEMV declined 58% less than that of broad EM as measured by the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.[4] If we extend the analysis to a longer period of time, similar performance behaviors hold. Since its first full month of live performance in November of 2011, EEMV has exhibited a downside capture of only 78%, reduced volatility by over 23%, and dampened the maximum drawdown by 22%.[5]

Summary statistics since EEMV inception

Anticipate risk: Rein in Emerging Markets

If one can potentially soften draw-downs, while also gaining exposure to a source of diversified returns, EM may become a much more attractive investment for many individual investors. Consequently, a minimum volatility strategy may help investors feel comfortable investing in a riskier asset class, while also helping them to remain invested through more challenging market environments. Importantly, for long-term investors, EM has yielded a positive return premium over time versus the developed world. EM also provides a differentiated source of return compared to other asset classes that can play an important diversification role within portfolios.

Recently, we have seen trade wars disrupt and pressure EM; however, we believe that much of the potential impact of these trade wars has already been priced in. That said, volatility may escalate or subside from here. Either way, we consider the EM asset class a longer term investment option that currently exhibits shorter-term opportunity. For those who want to be prepared for potential downside, while maintaining upside participation, an Emerging Market Minimum Volatility strategy, such as EEMV, may be worth considering.

Holly Framsted, CFA, is the Head of US Factor ETFs within BlackRock’s ETF and Index Investment Group and is a regular contributor to The Blog.

[1] 1/1/2001 marks the launch of the net return variant of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index

[2] Source: Morningstar Direct. 1/1/2001–12/31/2018. Developed Markets represented by MSCI World Index

[3] Source: Morningstar Direct.

[4] Morningstar Direct as of 12/31/2018

[5] Morningstar Direct as of 12/31/2018

Carefully consider the Funds’ investment objectives, risk factors, and charges and expenses before investing. This and other information can be found in the Funds’ prospectuses or, if available, the summary prospectuses which may be obtained by visiting www.iShares.com or www.blackrock.com. Read the prospectus carefully before investing.

Investing involves risks, including possible loss of principal.

International investing involves risks, including risks related to foreign currency, limited liquidity, less government regulation and the possibility of substantial volatility due to adverse political, economic or other developments. These risks often are heightened for investments in emerging/developing markets and in concentrations of single countries.

The iShares Minimum Volatility Funds may experience more than minimum volatility as there is no guarantee that the underlying index’s strategy of seeking to lower volatility will be successful.

This material represents an assessment of the market environment as of the date indicated; is subject to change; and is not intended to be a forecast of future events or a guarantee of future results. This information should not be relied upon by the reader as research or investment advice regarding the funds or any issuer or security in particular. This document contains general information only and does not take into account an individual’s financial circumstances. This information should not be relied upon as a primary basis for an investment decision. Rather, an assessment should be made as to whether the information is appropriate in individual circumstances and consideration should be given to talking to a financial advisor before making an investment decision.

This material is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. The opinions expressed are as of January 2019 and may change as subsequent conditions vary. The information and opinions contained in this post are derived from proprietary and non proprietary sources deemed by BlackRock to be reliable, are not necessarily all-inclusive and are not guaranteed as to accuracy. As such, no warranty of accuracy or reliability is given and no responsibility arising in any other way for errors and omissions (including responsibility to any person by reason of negligence) is accepted by BlackRock, its officers, employees or agents. This post may contain “forward-looking” information that is not purely historical in nature. Such information may include, among other things, projections and forecasts. There is no guarantee that any forecasts made will come to pass. Reliance upon information in this post is at the sole discretion of the reader. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Index performance is shown for illustrative purposes only. You cannot invest directly in an index.

©2019 BlackRock, Inc. All rights reserved. BLACKROCK is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc., or its subsidiaries in the United States and elsewhere. All other marks are the property of their respective owners.

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