No matter where you looked during the first quarter, you were likely to find some very strong equity performance. That’s true for stocks in the emerging market space as well, as my Best ETFs contest selection of the iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (NYSEARCA:IEMG), my preferred ETF for exposure to the emerging markets, logged a gain of nearly 10% in Q1.
Now, while that gain is fantastic, given the mighty quarter we saw in broad-based domestic and international stocks, the near double-digit percentage move in IEMG seems somewhat tame by comparison.
In what was the best quarter for stocks in nearly a decade, the major domestic and world indexes saw a big move that eclipsed the strong gains in emerging-market equities. The chart below shows the upward trajectory of IEMG, the S&P 500 and the Vanguard Total World Stock Index Fund ETF Shares (NYSEARCA:VT).
I always find it frustrating when you get a big gain in a sector ETF or a stock, only to realize that simply owning a vanilla S&P 500 fund would have given you better performance. That said, we must realize that Q1 performance in stocks was highly atypical, not just from a straight-up numbers standpoint, but also because the drivers that sent stocks soaring nearly across the board aren’t likely to be duplicated during Q2.
An about-face by the Federal Reserve on rate hikes, and the announced end to “Quantitative Tightening” by September, helped fuel the Q1 buying, but the Fed factor is largely priced into stocks here. Then we had a not-as-bad-as-feared Q4 earnings season, and that helped markets move higher. However, if we don’t see real, robust earnings in Q1, it’s hard to see domestic stocks trending higher at the pace they did through the first three months of 2019.
I remain bullish on emerging markets, as I suspect the recent bout of U.S. dollar strength, created chiefly by lower bond yields and geopolitical angst (particularly in Europe due to Brexit), will subside. That should cause the dollar to back off a bit, and that will be good for commodities — and by extension, emerging market economies that are often commodity-based.
The bottom line is the IEMG ETF has performed well so far in 2019, and I expect that performance to accelerate in the second quarter.
At the time of this writing, Jim Woods was long IEMG in his Successful Investing portfolio.