August 26, 2018 / 11:05 PM / 21 days ago

REFILE-Emerging market fund managers hunt for bargains after Turkey contagion

(Corrects spelling of name in paragraphs 7 and 8)

By Daniel Leussink

TOKYO, Aug 27 (Reuters) - Turkey’s economic crisis has created headaches for investors and policymakers across emerging markets, but for some fund managers, it’s a chance to pick up a range of cheap assets, from Indonesian bonds to Brazilian equities.

The bullish view on global growth has been severely tested this year, with stock markets hit by a Sino-U.S. trade war, rising U.S. yields and a dollar rally.

MSCI’s emerging market equity index is down 9 percent this year while China’s main benchmark is off 17 percent.

Turkey’s problems hastened that selloff. Its lira plunged about 30 percent over a few weeks in July and August, hit by increasing worries about President Tayyip Erdogan’s policies and worsening diplomatic ties with the United States and Europe.

This triggered sharp currency falls in other emerging markets, such as Argentina, India, Russia, South Africa and Indonesia.

While that move has heightened wider anxieties, many investors see a good chance to step up positions in some of these markets, particularly in Asia.

For Fabiana Fedeli, global head of fundamental equities at Robeco, South Korea and China are the top investment destinations.

“You will have volatility. That unfortunately comes with the package in emerging markets,” Fedeli said.

But she notes it’s an opportunity to buy rather than a reason to panic.

Robeco sold its holdings in Turkey in its fundamental equity strategies well before the crisis, she said, anticipating trouble from the country’s extremely loose monetary settings.

Robert Samson, a Singapore-based senior multi-asset portfolio manager at Nikko Asset Management, sees Asian stocks supported by strong earnings and structurally sound growth and has added the asset class to Nikko’s overweight positions.

“Because of the downdraft and how emerging markets like to sell off all at once, thinking that they all share the same characteristics, which they don’t, it’s often a buying opportunity,” said Samson.

He said the price-to-earnings ratio of Asia ex-Japan stocks is at about 13, well below average and the lowest since early 2016 when markets were also quite depressed.

“This is not to say they cannot get cheaper, but we see reasonable upside when the stress subsides,” he said.

The selloff in emerging markets gathered momentum after U.S. President Donald Trump in March signed a memorandum targeting up to $60 billion in Chinese goods with tariffs, triggering fears of a global trade war.

Since then, the Chinese stock market has shed nearly 15 percent in dollar terms and Indonesia has lost 12 percent though India has risen 5 percent.

Data from research service Morningstar showed emerging market equity and bond funds globally posted net outflows in May and June, reversing inflows seen in January through to April.

In his search for opportunities, Kenneth Akintewe, head of Asian Sovereign Debt at Aberdeen Standard Investments in Singapore, studies investor positioning in each market.

Indonesian bonds went from being his team’s largest overweight position to underweight in late 2017 as foreign ownership levels shot to above 40 percent.

But he is now cautiously returning to the Indonesian bonds, after long-term yields there spiked above 8 percent following the Turkish rout.

Akintewe also sees buying opportunities in dollar-denominated bond markets, such as Chinese high yield bonds and real estate, as well as the local-currency bond market in Malaysia.

Chinese bonds are a hot favourite with many fund managers because of falling yields and a low correlation with developed markets, where yields are rising.

Chuck Knudsen, a portfolio specialist at T. Rowe Price in Baltimore, says Turkey gave him the opportunity to invest in assets such as stocks of private banks in Brazil and India, insurance companies in South Africa and China, and equities of internet and financial holdings in Russia.

Knudsen said emerging market valuations, based on 2019 price to earnings ratios, have fallen to discount levels, compared with their historical averages and relative to developed markets.

“Brazil and South Africa would be two countries today where we have overweights and that we like,” he said.

Such bets are not without risks, however. To contain the impact of declining local currencies in these emerging markets, some fund managers are using short positions in low-yielding Asian currencies such as the Taiwan dollar and Thai baht as a hedge.

Akintewe said his team is now also looking at using the euro or Australian dollar to fund other Asian investments.

“What you’re worried about is the volatility versus the U.S. dollar, but we don’t always have to express all our currency risk versus the U.S. dollar,” he said.

Editing by Vidya Ranganathan and Sam Holmes

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