Emerging Markets: Lessons From History

Jason Zweig of the Wall Street Journal draws parallels between the 19th century emerging U.S. market and today’s emerging markets, especially China. “Emerging markets aren’t lucrative investments just because they are ’emerging,'” according to Zweig. From 1802 to 1870, stocks in the emerging U.S. market gained an average of 6.7% annually. Since 1926, the average annual return has been 6.9%. Bubbles tend to arise in emerging markets when developed markets face very low returns, as was the case with U.K. investors pumping money into the U.S. in the 19th century, and high U.S. investment in today’s emerging markets. Sandy Nairn of Edinburgh Partners says, “when you pull down returns on deposits to zero or below, then you create a portfolio effect that distorts markets elsewhere.” As the Journal reports, “emerging markets deliver their best results not when hopes are highest, but after they break investors’ hearts.” Following a 30% loss in 2000, emerging markets doubled over the next decade, peaking in 2010. Since then, they’ve lost 22% even as global stocks increased 44% and U.S. stocks gained 75%. The piece suggests that the Shanghai Composite Index, down about 23% so far in 2016, may be getting close to turning around.