One final post based upon 2010 data. I have been interested in emerging markets, in general, and the challenges of valuing companies in these markets, in particular, for a long time. When I started on this endeavor in the 1990s, the fault lines between developed and emerging markets were stark and could be categorized on the following dimensions:
1. Financial markets versus Economy: In emerging economies, financial markets were a very small and unrepresentative sampling of the underlying economy. Thus, the bulk of the market capitalization in most emerging markets came from recently privatized infrastructure companies, a few large banks and family controlled corporations. In developed markets, especially the US, Japan and the UK, much of the economy was corporatized and publicly traded.
2. Liquidity and capital access: Emerging markets were subject to ebbs and flows in liquidity, with crises, where liquidity and capital access dried up for almost all firms in the market. Only those emerging market companies that had access to foreign capital were able to maintain life lines during these periods. In developed markets, it was accepted that while some segments of the economy would have trouble raising capital, liquidity and capital access would remain available to most mid cap and large cap firms.
3. Default risk in government: Investors in bonds issued by governments in emerging markets assumed that would be a significant risk of default in these governments, even when they borrowed in the local currency, and priced in this default in the form of high interest rates. Investors in bonds issued by governments in developed markets did not even give thought to the possibility of default in the local currency.
4. Government role in company/economic health: Governments in emerging markets played a much more intrusive (and larger) role in their economies and the fates of their companies (through both explicit controls and licenses and implict threats of nationalization or expropriation). They were also viewed as more volatile and unpredictable. Consequently, when valuing emerging market companies, assumptions about government competence (or incompetence) and actions (or inactions) could affect company value substantially. In developed markets, the value of a company was largely a function of its management qualities and competitive advantages, and governments were viewed as predictable, side players.
5. Currency and inflation: In emerging markets, there was distrust of the local currency, often motivated by bouts of inflation and political uncertainty in the past. This distrust manifested itself in many ways, from an unwillingness by any entity in that market to borrow/lend long term in the local currency, to all analysis being done in U.S. dollars. In developed markets, investors may have been susceptible to complaining about the strength/weakness of the local currencies but inflation was mostly viewed as a controllable problem and currency longevity was taken as a given.
The crisis of 2008 may have precipitated this shift, but it is a shift that has been occurring over much of the last decade. Today, the gap between emerging and developed markets has shrunk and, in some cases, disappeared.
a. Financial markets and economy: While there remain many emerging economies, where financial markets lag the economy, the biggest emerging markets (India, China and Brazil) have seen explosive growth in both the number of companies that are publicly traded and the portion of the economy that is covered by financial markets.
b. Liquidity and capital access: In the last quarter of 2008, we witnessed the almost unimaginable sight of GE being unable to issue commercial paper. In effect, developed markets discovered that you could have a liquidity crisis that affected all companies and all sources of capital. At the same time, the expansion of local investor bases has made emerging markets more liquid and expanded capital access to companies in these markets.
c. Default risk in government: As emerging market governments establish a track record of paying their obligations on time and without fanfare, and developed market governments (Greece, Iceland) reveal significant potential for default, the notion that there is no default risk in developed market governments is coming under assault. In fact, the argument that the US and the UK may not be AAA rated forever no longer sounds far fetched.
4. Governments and Economy: While I was valuing Citigroup and Bank of America early in 2009, I realized how much my valuations of these two firms was dependent upon government action or inaction and I found myself using techniques that I had developed to value emerging market companies in the 1990s. At the same time, I find myself valuing well run Brazilian and Indian companies, without paying much heed to the governments in the markets. (I am afraid I cannot say this yet for Chinese companies, because of corporate governance concerns)
5. Currency and Inflation: As I noted in an earlier post, I see a much greater willingness in large emerging markets to analyze investments and value companies in the local currency. Investors in these markets have more faith in their currencies and seem to be less scarred by inflation worries than in periods past. At the same time, investors in developed markets seem to be jumpy about potential inflation in the future; this fear may not be manifested in current inflation or interest rates but it can be seen in the flight to gold and talk about hyperinflation.
In closing, the gap between developed and emerging market companies is closing, both in economic and analytical terms. The former are displaying some of the most troublesome characteristics of the latter, whereas the latter are maturing. For analysts and investors, the lessons should be clear. Developed market investors who have become lazy over decades of stability need to wake up and use techniques that emerging market analysts and investors have used for that same period. Emerging market investors and analysts who have made their money by playing the macro and government forecasting game have to start thinking more seriously about company fundamentals and value. There is work to do!