Emerging Debt Rumors

Terry Flanagan

The emerging markets have been long prized for innovative companies, a budding economy, and entrepreneurship…but the region’s debt has been on the rise as a standalone asset class.

Investors as of late have been struggling to find worth and value within fixed income investing. Yields continue to get lower in the developed world, leaving room for emerging market debt to shine.

Today, emerging market debt outstanding stands at 2.2 trillion dollars globally, mainly consisting of local currency dollar bonds, noted Max Wolman, a portfolio manager on the emerging markets debt team at Aberdeen Asset Management.

Based in Scotland, Aberdeen manages close to 300 billion under management, in 30 different countries, on five continents.

“The value of emerging market debt is its high bond value, as well as currency appreciation,” said Wolman. Interest rates in countries—notably, Latin America can average around 5%. Compared to a lowly .25% in the developed world, Wolman makes the case that investing in emerging market debt is highly rewarding, with little risk.

Brazil especially is most attractive, at an interest rate of 12%, and 7% inflation rate, a much more controlled figure than the double digit projections seen ten years ago.

“The external debt to GDP ratio is like 50, or 60%, a budget deficit collectively stands at less than 2%,” said Wolman.

“The credit quality has also improved,” Wolman said. “90% of corporate emerging market debt is investment grade and default rates on high yield corporate bonds are about 14%–the same as the U.S. default rate back in 2009.”

Overall, local currency bonds and overall sovereign debt is most attractive within the emerging markets debt asset class. Corporate debt alone is still not a big enough “investable market,” Wolman noted.

However, for those looking to invest in corporate debt within the emerging markets, Wolman noted that investors can expect less leverage—an average of one times levered, versus 1.6 times levered, in the developed world.

“There is plenty of free cash flow available within the emerging market companies that raise debt, and many investors don’t realize it,” he said.

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