It is widely recognized that emerging market equities are very susceptible to investor sentiment—a fact that can work toward generating both positive and negative performance at different points in time. Within emerging market economies, two of the data points that people get most attracted to are:
• Fast rates of economic growth compared to the developed world (fast growth rates)
• Very large populations (large numbers)
Fast growth rates and large numbers are two elements that have the potential to make investors forget some of the more basic elements of investing—such as valuation—and simply get excited. Historically, we’ve seen that excitement at the exclusion of all else has typically been associated with disappointing subsequent returns.
Historically, Consumer Sectors (Staples and Discretionary) Have Tended to Be Expensive
Because investors are easily enamored with the theme of consumer growth in emerging markets, we believe that valuation risk is one of the single greatest risks to consumer-oriented stocks and sectors in the emerging markets today. Looking specifically at the MSCI Emerging Markets Consumer Discretionary Index (Discretionary) and the MSCI Emerging Markets Consumer Staples Index (Staples), we see:
• Over the 10 Years Ending 8/31/2013: Discretionary traded at an average price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio approximately 5% above that of the broader MSCI Emerging Markets Index (MSCI EM Index), while Staples traded at an average P/E ratio of nearly 50% above this same benchmark over the same period.
• As of 8/31/2013: Currently, Discretionary has a P/E ratio approximately 13.5% above that of the MSCI EM Index (almost three times above its 10-year average), and Staples has a P/E ratio about 100% above that of the broad market.
We want to bring this point to people’s attention to remind them that while a theme—such as that of the EM consumer—may look attractive, it cannot be considered in a vacuum. Valuation must remain an important question, and we took this as an important challenge to tackle as we developed our methodology for the WisdomTree Emerging Markets Consumer Growth Index (WTEMCG).
A Double-Barreled Valuation Discipline—Selection and Weighting
When creating any methodology for an index, there are two broad concepts that must be considered. First is stock selection, in that there is always an initial universe of eligible companies from which a methodology must select constituents in order to emphasize certain types of attributes over others. Typically, the types of firms that your selection steers you away from are just as important as what your selection steers you toward. For WTEMCG, eligible companies are screened by their earnings yield, a factor that comprises a one-third weight within the composite score that determines the ultimate constituent list. Firms with relatively lower earnings yields—and, therefore, more expensive valuations—may score low enough by this metric that, even if their other scores are favorable, they do not gain inclusion in the Index.
The second broad concept in Index construction regards weighting, a process that only begins after the final constituent list is set. As a general note, a big WisdomTree theme is weighting by fundamentals, so a firm’s share price is not a primary determining factor in its weight. In the case of WTEMCG, constituents are weighted by their earnings. Let’s compare an earnings-weighted methodology to a market capitalization-weighted methodology for two firms with:
1. The same number of shares outstanding