How have Latin American equity markets performed?

This article is part of
Guide to investing in Latin America

How have Latin American equity markets performed?

It’s been a tough year for Latin American equities.

Despite the MSCI EM Latin America index rising swiftly in the first four weeks of 2018, it has been a topsy-turvy ride ever since – and all of it downhill. 

This sort of market behaviour is nothing new. After taking a hammering in the 2008 financial crisis, Latin American equities had a strong rally between 2009 and 2011 – and then they slipped into a five-year period of severe underperformance.

Blighted by domestic issues and challenging global conditions during that period, equities in the region tumbled by 62 per cent.

A glimmer of hope arrived in 2016 and 2017 when stock markets posted strong gains. But this couldn’t offset the losses of the previous five years and many long-term investors were left sitting on deep losses.

The challenges for equity investors in Latin America largely stem from fluctuating commodity prices, political shocks and economic mismanagement.

With so many economies linked to China’s growth prospects through commodity markets, prospective investors are surely hoping Beijing doesn’t face further restrictions on trade.

Nuts about Brazil

For the most part, investing in a Latin American equity fund means taking on significant exposure to Brazil.

While the region comprises more than two dozen countries and territories stretching from Mexico to the southern tip of Chile, funds generally focus on five markets: Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru. Argentina only plays a small role in portfolios, while liquidity issues tend to preclude other markets.

Because of this, returns are heavily aligned with the fortunes of Brazil and Mexico. Tom Smith, co-head of emerging market equities at Neptune Investment Management, says Brazil has struggled in recent years as it grapples with economic challenges, and this has weighed on funds investing in the region.

“The investment climate in Brazil has been tough in recent years, with the recession – alongside double-digit inflation and unemployment – weighing on corporate earnings and the interventionist policies of the Dilma Rousseff government impacting business confidence and reducing visibility,” Mr Smith says. 

Disappointing returns

In many ways, volatility is a byword for Latin American equity markets. Large gains are frequently absorbed by even larger losses as markets gyrate between positive and negative sentiment.

“Latin America volatility is twice as high as emerging markets in general,” says Lena Tsymbaluk, investment analyst at Morningstar, who adds that much of this is being influenced by Argentina. The region is not necessarily cheap either, trading at higher average valuations than the broader MSCI Emerging Markets index.

When looking at performance data for Latin American equities over the past decade, it can be difficult to feel much excitement.

Table 1

Group/InvestmentOne yearThree yearThree year annualisedFive yearFive year annualised10 year10 year annualised
Aberdeen Latin American Equity-14.352.315.1-16.5-3.5  
MFS® Meridian Latin American Equity-  
JPM Latin America Equity -13.433.310.0-18.5-
Templeton Latin America -13.337.411.2-21.6-4.7-12.1-1.3
Scottish Widows Latin America-
Barings Latin America -12.722.57.0-24.6-5.5-9.5-1.0
Janus Henderson Latin American -
BlackRock Latin America Inv-10.638.411.4-11.5-
Threadneedle Latin America -
Stewart Investors Latin America-9.151.514.80.90.2  
Invesco Latin American UK-8.534.210.3-25.4-5.713.71.3
Schroder ISF Latin American -7.843.412.8-18.8-4.1-0.30.0
HSBC GIF Latin American Equity-7.440.512.0-19.9-4.315.91.5
Neptune Latin America -6.656.316.0-1.2-
Benchmark 1: MSCI EM Latin America NR USD-9.146.913.7-10.8-
Benchmark 2: MSCI ACWI Ex USA NR USD1.833.

In the 10 years to September 30, the index has returned just 6.8 per cent and is down 10.8 per cent over five years. Over shorter time periods things look better, with the index delivering a solid 46.9 per cent in the past three years.