3 Things to Watch Out For When Investing in Emerging Markets

Emerging markets have been on an upward trend lately, but before you add them to your investment portfolio, here’s what you need to know.

ValueChampion Editorial Team

by ValueChampion Editorial Team on Apr 17, 2024

investing in stocks

Historically, emerging markets have been both the boon and bane of investors. This is because the growth potential of emerging markets has drawn excited investors who are seeking high returns on their investments, while the instability of these markets have also caused them heavy losses. Empirically speaking, although the developed markets like S&P 500, DAX and FTSE 100 used to do relatively well compared to emerging markets, according to S&P Global, “the divergence between emerging and developed markets continued into the end of 2023, with faster economic expansions among emerging economies contrasting with a sustained fall in developed world output”.

If you are hunting for undervalued stocks to own in these emerging markets, you should know that you must tread very carefully. The usual metrics and analysis that an average investor does in the developed markets may not always apply in the same way when you are investing in Brazil or Malaysia. Below, we highlight a few factors to which you should pay extra attention in order to avoid facing heavy losses as well as earn great investment returns.

1. Corporate Governance

company banks cbd offices
Source: Unsplash

One of the biggest dangers of investing in emerging markets is corporate fraud as well as bad managements destroying the value of their companies with shareholder unfriendly policies. Because the auditing infrastructure in these countries are often insufficient, many listed companies have either faked the size of their businesses or stolen cash from their bank accounts. There are also other less serious cases where management teams make irrational decisions in order to maintain control of their firms instead of doing right by their shareholders.

There are several things that you can look out for in order to filter out companies that could possibly fall into one of the aforementioned categories. First, you should first look at the history of the firm and see if they’ve ever returned capital to their shareholders in a meaningful way. Especially when the stock price has been declining, the company’s share-buybacks can be a significant vote of confidence in the health of a firm’s business. Not only that, if the firm has been increasing its dividends consistently with its rising profits, it is generally a good sign that the management team is conscious of taking care of its shareholders. The fact that the company can deploy a meaningful amount of money to buy its own stocks or pay a consistently increasing dividend also confirms that the company’s business is real and actually generates some cash profit.

Secondly, you should look up the shareholding structure and see if there’s any “insiders” (i.e. management team, founder, chairman, etc.) that own a significant amount of shares in the company. Then, you should look up how they’ve changed their ownership in the company over time. Usually, you want to avoid investing in companies whose insiders have only sold their shares: it implies that they are trying to cash out while good times last (if it’s not a fraud). Therefore, you should aim to invest in companies whose insiders are always buying more shares whenever their stock prices drop meaningfully. Nobody knows these companies better than the insiders, and if they are willing to use their own cash to buy more stocks, it’s usually a good sign.

2. Currency Volatility

singapore bills
Source: Pexels

One of the biggest risks of investing in emerging markets is the volatility in currency exchange rates. Even if you were to earn a 20% return on your stock in Thailand, if Thai Baht loses 20% of its value against SGD, you would have barely broken even. In order to avoid this, you could main do two things. First, you can hedge your currencies so that you are only exposed to the change in your stock’s price. For instance, if you are buying a Hong Kong stock, you can short the HKD for every dollar you are investing: if you own S$1,000 of HK stocks, you should be shorting S$1,000 of HKD. The second measure you can employ is to do a lot of research on possible FX movements. This obviously is very difficult to do, and we do not recommend it to a casual investor.

3. Other Singular Risks (Political, Environmental, Energy, etc.)

There are other risks you should be aware of. Many emerging markets have very unstable political scene, and this could cause a detrimental loss to your investment portfolio if you are unlucky. Not only that, many emerging markets are heavily dependent on a specific commodity or energy product, so any disturbance in those markets can cause a massive panic in emerging markets. When you are investing in these regions, it’s good to keep track of all the possible “black swan” events that may seem unlikely but could be extremely damaging.


Emerging markets can be both exciting and dangerous place for stock investors: high reward usually comes with high risks. While the above tips can help you weed out most of the “dangers” in investing in these markets, you should always do a lot of due diligence and buy stocks only when there’s enough margin of safety: ideally, you want to buy things that are so undervalued that you can avoid losing money even when your research was wrong. If you do all of these, you could make decent returns over a long period.

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