Emily Fletcher, Co-Manager, BlackRock Frontiers Investment Trust
Updated 07 Oct 2020
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This is a non-independent marketing communication commissioned by BlackRock. The report has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and is not subject to any prohibition on the dealing ahead of the dissemination of investment research.

Capital at risk. The value of investments and the income from them can fall as well as rise and are not guaranteed. Investors may not get back the amount originally invested.

At a time of global fragility, investors cannot neglect diversification. Yet many emerging market portfolios are focused on a few dominant countries and stocks that are equally sensitive to global tensions and news flow. With imbalances at both the country and stock level – Chinese technology giant Alibaba, for example, holds a similar share of the index compared to the whole of Latin America, while Tencent is worth more than Eastern Europe1 – we believe investors may be missing out on opportunities offered from smaller markets such as Indonesia, Turkey, and Egypt as economic conditions change.

While external pressures remain from the unknown impact of COVID-19 and flaring geopolitical tensions between the US and China, it is our belief that the breadth and diversity across the smaller markets will allow us to find additional pockets of value in such a fluid and macro-sensitive environment. This also comes at a time when low interest rates and coordinated fiscal stimulus has greatly improved liquidity, a factor that should benefit all developing markets as investors hunt abroad for returns and yield.

With the promise of broader access and valuations that compare favourably to long-term averages, we believe frontiers may be on the cusp of better times after a period when global investors have pulled money from the asset class.

Improving fortunes

On the BlackRock Frontiers Investment Trust, we aim to identify those markets that are at the foothills of a change in fortunes. When it happens, it can be powerful: investors reap the benefits of an improving currency, stronger liquidity and a change in investor expectations. This means we may be looking at countries where bond yields are high, the currency is weak and GDP is lower, but they are showing stronger signs: liquidity may be improving, trade balances are healing and the political situation may be stabilising.

That said, while we are always looking to invest in countries where the backdrop is improving, we aim to add around two-thirds of our value from picking individual stocks. In other words, strong companies in improving economies. At times when the economy is improving, stronger companies will see an influx of capital and can employ that additional capex to their advantage.

While not an explicit objective of the Trust, investing across the smaller economies allows us to engage with regulators and policy makers, passing on investment expertise that can help drive change to develop a more sustainable financial and social infrastructure for those communities to thrive.

Natural diversification

These markets have a notable diversification advantage. They are very different both to broader global stock markets and from each other. What is happening in Vietnam, is very different to what is happening in Nigeria, and then again to South Africa. From a risk management perspective, this is helpful.

The coronavirus has demonstrated how correlation can increase at times of market dislocation and therefore the importance of true diversification. We have 16 to 17 different countries represented within the portfolio, each with different drivers of performance and growth.

Risk: Diversification and asset allocation may not fully protect you from market risk.

Income advantage

We find that the companies we invest in not only tend to generate cash, but also prioritise paying dividends, which directly benefits shareholders. Also, valuations remain quite depressed, flattering these payouts. While these markets haven’t fully escaped dividend cuts in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, they haven’t been as hard-hit.

What will change the fortunes for these markets? It may be more confidence in global stock markets or global growth, it may simply be that investors realise that they have become too cheap given the value on offer. Either way, we believe we are on the cusp of change.

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