If you had told me at the beginning of the year that after nine months, global equity markets would still be dealing with an unsettled trade war between the United States and China, I would have told you that you had been traveling to Canada too often and buying too much legal cannabis. Yet that’s where we are today, and that has been a stiff negative headwind for many market segments pegged to U.S.-China trade.
Consider that not only is the trade war still not settled, it actually became materially worse in the third quarter. Interestingly, Q3 started strong as news of a new “trade truce” between the U.S. and China was announced at the G20 meeting in late June. Unfortunately, that trade truce lasted a little more than a month, as President Trump announced new 10% tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese imports on Aug. 1, citing a failure by the Chinese to fulfill promises to increase purchases of U.S. agricultural products.
Then in late August, the Chinese retaliated by levying various new tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. imports, and President Trump immediately responded by increasing existing tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports from 25% to 30%, and also increasing the previously announced 10% tariffs on $300 billion in Chinese imports to 15%. The tariff tit-for-tat weighed on emerging markets throughout August, and that weight was particularly heavy in the benchmark exchange-traded fund pegged to the sector: the iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (NYSEARCA:IEMG).
Does IEMG Still Rank Among the Best ETFs?
As we can see here by the year-to-date total return chart of IEMG, the big slide during Q3 occurred in August along with those flared-up trade tensions.
Year-to-date through the first three quarters, IEMG has posted a total return of 5.01%. While that’s not bad, it’s certainly not robust when compared to the S&P 500’s year-to-date total return of more than 20%.
Now, if trade weren’t enough of a headwind on emerging markets, there also was the continued rise in the value of the U.S. dollar vs. rival foreign currencies. In Q3, the value of the U.S. Dollar Index as measured by the Invesco DB US Dollar Bullish (UUP) was up 4.35%. A stronger dollar is a negative force pushing down emerging market equities, and as such strength in the buck continues to keep IEMG from breaking out.
I’m still of the opinion that emerging markets in general, and IEMG specifically, represent a value play of sorts for investors looking to gain long-term alpha. And while this thesis has yet to pan out in 2019, I remain long IEMG in my Successful Investing newsletter advisory service, as the overall trend in international equities remains bullish.
Until there’s a change in this bullish disposition, I will remain long emerging markets via IEMG.
At the time of this writing, Jim Woods was long IEMG in his Successful Investing newsletter.