Emerging Markets Stocks Down 13%; Ballmer to Retire within Year

in Market Commentary by

Market Digest – Week Ending 8/23

Wednesday’s eagerly anticipated release of the July Fed minutes turned out to be a non-event. The minutes left plenty of room for guesswork, but did little to change consensus expectations of a modest “taper” of bond buying in September. Stocks and bonds treaded water for the week, both posting modest gains.

Weekly Returns:
S&P 500: 1,664 (+0.5%)
FTSE All-World ex-US: (-0.6%)
US 10 Year Treasury Yield: 2.81% (-0.02%)
Gold: $1,392 (+1.3%)
USD/EUR: $1.338 (+0.3%)

Major Events:

  • Monday – The Fed said some of the largest U.S. banks may need to increase capital levels or curtail dividends and share buybacks to satisfy regulators.
  • Tuesday – German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said Greece will need another bailout.
  • Wednesday – The Federal Reserve’s July policy meeting minutes provided no clear signal on the timing of when the central bank will start scaling back its $85 billion bond-buying program. Fed officials described recent data as “mixed”.
  • Wednesday – Syrian rebels claim the government killed over a thousand people in a chemical weapons attack.
  • Thursday – A preliminary Chinese August manufacturing report showed greater than expected growth.
  • Thursday – The Nasdaq stock market experienced technical issues and was forced to halt trading for three hours.
  • Friday – Microsoft announced that CEO Steve Ballmer will retire within the next 12 months. Mr. Ballmer has been CEO since January, 2000. Shares rose.
  • Friday – The U.S. considered military options for possible strikes in Syria in response to allegations the government killed over 1,100 civilians with chemical weapons.

Our Take:
Emerging markets stocks are down about 13% and are lagging the S&P 500 by nearly 30% year to date. In the financial media, it is accepted that emerging markets are falling because the Fed may taper bond purchases. This is partially right, but not for the reasons most commonly cited. Yes, it has been enticing to borrow at zero interest rates and invest abroad where you can earn a higher return. But not much has changed in this regard. US short-term rates remain near zero and are expected to stay there for at least another 12 months.

However, if Fed tapering successfully contains the “great experiment” without inflation accelerating, it will be good for the dollar. Indeed, the majority of the decline in emerging markets has been currency translation, not falling stock prices in local markets. Interestingly, just last year most emerging economies were being lauded for having their debt situation under better control than the US, Europe and Japan.

Emerging markets have a lot of warts and problems. A potential banking crisis in China concerns us as does Russia’s unfortunate political realities. Emerging markets are volatile on the upside and the downside. But that’s always been the case. It’s why they are called “emerging”. Things may get worse before they get better, but it is likely a mistake to get scared away.

Retail investors are fleeing emerging market mutual funds and ETFs. Institutional investors are not. Don’t abandon one of the great tools to generate long term growth and enhance diversification. It is too hard to time when to get back in. But don’t get greedy either. For most investors we continue to recommend 30% of stocks allocated to international, and roughly 30% of that to emerging markets (9% of total equities).

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Craig Birk, CFP®

Craig Birk, CFP®

Craig Birk leads the Personal Capital Advisors Investment Committee and serves as the Chief Investment Officer. His focus is translating improvements in technology into better financial lives. Craig has been widely quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, CNN Money, the Washington Post and elsewhere. Prior to Personal Capital Advisors, he was a leader within the portfolio management team at Fisher Investments, helping assets under management grow from $1.5 billion to over $40 billion. Craig graduated from the University of California at San Diego and has earned the Certified Financial Planner® designation.

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