On January 23, Chinese around the world ushered in the year of the dragon under the Lunar Calendar. The dragon is an auspicious and mythical creature in the Chinese culture. It is a symbol of power such that emperors in the historic days were regarded as the dragon’s ‘sons’ and many Chinese still call themselves “descendants of the dragon.”
With the debt situation in Europe continuing to further unravel and dim economic prospects in the U.S., many have come to believe that the star of the “dragon descendants” has the potential to rise even further in the coming years. China’s GDP growth is expected to moderate to around 8.2% in 2012, which is high compared to developed economies. 1
In 2011, perceptions regarding the composition of the global economy underwent a shift—instead of the U.S. being considered as the world’s key growth engine, investors began to realize that large emerging economies such as China and India were increasing their contribution to global GDP. While the U.S. saw its long-term credit rating downgraded in August and the eurozone was the center of heightened worries about sovereign debt for much of the year, some emerging economies witnessed positive growth in 2011.
That is not to say there were not challenges. As most developed nations continued to implement very loose monetary policy measures, washing much of the global financial system with liquidity, many emerging countries had to reckon with higher prices for goods and services, appreciating currencies and, in some cases, “imported” inflation. In their fight against high inflation, several emerging-market central banks embarked on tightening monetary policies for much of the year, which led to investors worrying about the prospects for economic growth. Indeed, the high-growth economies of China and other emerging Asian and Latin American countries lost some momentum as the year wore on, but to us they now appear poised for softer landings than their developed-market counterparts.
While emerging markets were considered a niche or “exotic” investment when I started investing in the late 1980s, many investors are now familiar with them and I’m seeing more and more investors turning to emerging markets as a way to diversify their portfolios. Yet, emerging markets themselves are not a homogeneous zone. Within the emerging markets universe, we believe frontier markets as a whole have begun to take an impressive lead in terms of growth.
Frontier markets, as their name suggests, could be described as “new or younger emerging” markets. Located throughout Asia, Africa, Europe and South America, they are often in a much earlier stage of economic development than larger emerging markets and many have only recently opened to foreign investing. This helps explain their high growth potential. Newer markets typically have more room to grow and the search for growth potential amid acute global volatility is encouraging many investors to expand their horizons.