By Christopher Gannatti, WisdomTree
Following a relatively tranquil 2017, volatility came roaring back in late January and early February 2018, resting currently generally higher than what was seen last year.
Many investors were calling for this change. That said, few foresaw how quickly and how violently that prediction would come to fruition. While there was some debate as to what exactly prompted the pickup in volatility, the bottom line is that the spike in the Volatility Index (VIX) left equity investors running for cover.
One thing we found interesting was that during the height of the February 2018 correction, the MSCI Emerging Markets Index outperformed the S&P 500 by almost 150 basis points on the downside.1 Given that the Emerging Market (EM) asset class historically has had a standard deviation about 50% higher than that of the S&P2, EM investors who may have expected the performance of EM to be worse than that of the US were likely pleasantly surprised.
Valuation’s impact on beta
The EM outperformance in February 2018 brings to mind a concept that investment strategist Jeremy Grantham has written about: beta is a critical component of explaining relative performance, but valuation can influence beta.
Assets that are more expensive relative to their history may experience volatility above their expected levels (and vice versa). When an asset’s price outruns its fundamentals, a downturn in the market can be disproportionally negative when the music stops3. With the S&P 500 trading at or near historic highs (a statement we’ve been making for some years now), this concept may become more important to consider.
This is the exact same idea that underpins WisdomTree’s original investment philosophy and why we focus on fundamentals. Regarding those fundamentals, within EM we remain encouraged by corporate earnings and believe that the valuation currently offered by the asset class could be underappreciated.
Learning to embrace volatility
On a closing basis, the recent high on the VIX was 37.32, set on 5 February 2018. Dating back to 2007, of all 163 instances when the VIX reached levels at least that high, the MSCI Emerging Markets Index had positive returns over the next year on every single occasion—with the average one-year return at 69.7%. While VIX spikes admittedly were clustered around a handful of key events, the results each time were unanimous: the higher the levels reached by the VIX, the higher the forward returns tended to be for EM.
The lesson here for investorsis the potential to embrace volatility. Where a rising VIX typically equates to a shortterm equity sell-off, emerging market investors who have used the dips as buying opportunities historically have seen positive results.
Small-Cap dividends in emerging markets
Over our history, we’ve found that our dividend-weighted approach typically has the greatest excess performance relative to cap weighting in lesser efficient markets, particularly in mid-caps and small caps around the globe.
Since its inception in 2007, the WisdomTree Emerging Markets SmallCap Dividend Index not only has outperformed the large-capfocused MSCI Emerging Markets Index, but, contrary to what one might expect with small caps, it has done so with less volatility.
This excess performance holds true for both the Index’s entire history as well as immediately following jumps in the VIX. Regardless of how high the VIX went, the WisdomTree Index outperformed the MSCI index in the aftermath of all elevated VIX levels.
1. Bloomberg, for the period 26/01/18–08/02/18.
2. Bloomberg, for the period from 31/08/2008 to 31/08/2018.
3. Klijn, Wouter. “The Biggest Risk in Investing is in Trying to Avoid it: Grantham.” Investment Innovation Institute. 21 March 2018.
This material is prepared by WisdomTree and its affiliates and is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. The opinions expressed are as of the date of production and may change as subsequent conditions vary. The information and opinions contained in this material are derived from proprietary and non-proprietary sources. As such, no warranty of accuracy or reliability is given and no responsibility arising in any other way for errors and omissions (including responsibility to any person by reason of negligence) is accepted by WisdomTree, nor any affiliate, nor any of their officers, employees or agents. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.