Lazard Keeps Faith in Emerging Markets on Outlook for Growth

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(Bloomberg) -- As a stellar year for emerging-market assets winds to a close, Lazard Asset Management is betting on further gains in 2018, albeit at a slower pace.

Economic growth will propel corporate earnings and support local currencies, though richer valuations mean investors are unlikely to notch the same level of gains they saw this year, according to Denise Simon and James Donald, money managers at Lazard, which has $66.6 billion of emerging-market assets. They forecast domestic bonds will deliver a high-single digit return and equities will climb 10 to 15 percent. Those asset classes rose about 13 percent and 33 percent this year.

Developing-nation stocks and currencies have posted their best return since 2009 on the back of investor confidence that drove appetite for riskier bets, as well as faster economic growth and a less volatile political backdrop. In equities, the rally reduced the valuation discount for emerging markets relative to developed markets to 25 percent from 35 percent. Gains could reduce the gap to as low as 20 percent in 2018, according to Donald.

“We just had a very powerful year, and it is hard to see another year like this,” Donald said.

Here’s where the money managers see value in bonds next year:

  • Argentina’s local notes are attractive as President Mauricio Macri continues his push to overhaul the economy, curb inflation and narrow the fiscal deficit.
  • Brazil’s local rates offer value, as the yield curve seems too steep.
  • Russian fixed-income assets are poised for gains as inflation slows.

In equities, Lazard is finding companies with attractive valuations in the financial and telecommunications sectors. In China, Lazard is overweight in two of its three emerging-market equities strategies. The one focused on price growth has considerable exposure to technology companies and the core strategy, which tracks closer to benchmark indexes, naturally has a larger China weight. Only the value-oriented strategy isn’t overweight the country, since Donald says a lot of these stocks are expensive.

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index rose 0.8 percent as of 1:09 p.m. in New York.

Donald sees frontier equity markets offering good opportunities as economic development takes hold. Members of the Lazard team visited companies in Vietnam and Pakistan this year to assess investments. He also says Nigeria looks attractive.

“Frontier is a very good long-term opportunity for investors that can assume the risk,” he said.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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