However, for the past 12 months India has become the driving force in the emerging markets sector, following the election of its prime minister Narendra Modi.
Emerging markets have generally struggled in recent years, as a perceived slowdown in China, combined with Brazil’s decline and Russia’s issues with Ukraine, have all dragged on performance.
The MSCI Emerging Markets index, for example, has risen just 12.5 per cent in the 12 months to March 11 2015, while the MSCI’s Russia and Brazil indices have fallen 13.09 per cent and 10.02 per cent respectively over the same period, according to data from FE Analytics.
However, in spite of this, there is some hope for emerging markets investors in the shape of India and its ambitious reform programme under Mr Modi.
The politician may only have been in power since May last year, but the MSCI India index has gained 24.33 per cent in the period to March 10 2015, while for the 12-month period the index has gained 42.47 per cent.
This strong performance means India is looking extremely attractive for investors, but emerging markets should not be all about just one country and there remains more for India to do.
Alex Wolf, emerging markets economist at Standard Life Investments, says: “India now appears to be at the start of a cyclical recovery due to the confluence of three favourable factors: falling commodity prices, the start of an interest rate easing cycle, and the government prioritising economic reforms. The government’s current incremental approach to reform will boost potential growth, but a larger and more sustained improvement will require deeper reforms.”
Mr Wolf warns that if “internal opposition and intransigence at all levels of government cause the reform movement to slow and stall, then India will fail to meet its potential, with serious implications for social stability, the region, and also for global investors, who have started to buy into the growth story”.
Abbas Owainati, economist for multi asset at Old Mutual Global Investors, agrees that India “has a couple of things going for it”, but he points out that Mr Modi still lacks a majority in the upper house of the Indian parliament, which could prevent the passage of key bills.
“This has meant reforms have been delayed. Bureaucracy remains a key feature in Indian circles. There are $300bn [£203bn] in stalled projects, at least half of which are held up by regulatory or other bureaucratic issues.”
He adds: “It is perhaps appropriate to exhibit caution rather than excitement on Indian asset prices, particularly given the premium valuations at which they trade.”
But while India remains the jewel in the crown of emerging markets, there are other areas that should not be overlooked. The MSCI China index has risen 30.15 per cent in the past 12 months, in spite of its economic headwinds.
Austin Forey, manager of the JPMorgan Emerging Markets Investment Trust, says: “It’s true that emerging markets as an asset class has had a difficult time recently with mediocre returns. Primary commodities such as oil and gas… were a big part of aggregate emerging markets corporate profits in years past. The commodity sector slowdown has impacted the opportunity set certainly. A slowdown in China has also weighed on overall returns. This means… we have to look for areas where companies can prosper and avoid profit declines.”
Nyree Stewart is features editor at Investment Adviser
EMERGING MARKETS: KEY FIGURES
12-month increase in the MSCI Bric index to March 11 2015
Level of the Reserve Bank of India’s repo rate following an unexpected 0.25 per cent cut in early March
0.25 percentage points
Amount cut by the People’s Bank of China in early March from both its benchmark one-year lending rate and its one-year deposit rate