The ongoing transition toward consumption-driven economics that several emerging markets across the globe are currently undergoing has become a favorite theme for many investors.
Being able to leverage that dynamic to its fullest potential, though, means looking beyond the “broad based definition of consumption that’s limited to the consumer staples and consumer discretionary sectors,” says Jose Morales, chief investment officer of Mirae Asset Global Investments and portfolio manager of the $100 million Mirae Emerging Markets Great Consumer Fund.
Consumption is a multi-faceted process that has multiple elements to it, Morales believes, and those investors who can peel apart the layers and understand the varied drivers of consumption as they continue to change in different emerging markets will fare the best.
“We like to draw an analogy to what we see happening in the emerging markets now to what we saw with the Baby Boomers in the U.S.,” Morales said. “The Baby Boomers became the U.S. middle class and what you saw with them was not just increased consumption but also a change in consumption patterns – what they were and where they were buying it both changed.”
That same dynamic is happening in many emerging markets today, giving rise to a host of companies in sectors that offer goods and services catering toward changing tastes. Ecommerce is booming, for instance, and there’s a rising demand for things like healthcare and financial services, as “more people want to take better care of themselves and buy homes,” Morales said. Increasing disposable income means that more people can and want to travel, he said, so emerging market airline stocks are an interesting consideration.
“Within the emerging markets, different countries are at different stages with respect to the importance of consumption,” Morales said. “Some are at a different phase in the business cycle, for example, while some have a more developed middle class. Cultural tastes are different, too, and what sells well to a consumer in China may not sell well to a consumer in Mexico.”
Studying these “localized and selective choice patterns” within the broader consumption dynamic is the Mirae Emerging Markets Great Consumer Fund’s main thesis. The firm places great importance on travel, Morales said, and gathering intelligence at the local level to really feel the pulse of what’s happening in different emerging markets. The fund zeroes in on individual stock selections to generate alpha by focusing on the “mini themes within the broader consumption theme,” he said.
Right now, the fund is geared mostly toward Asia, where “we see the most transparent economic growth and the strongest consumer,” Morales said. “One of the big themes for us is the tourism theme in China, which is growing as more Chinese are traveling. Culturally, they have a taste for gambling, so the Macau gaming sector is booming. Luxury goods are also very popular in China so we’re interesting in luxury companies that are selling there.”
Elsewhere in Asia, both the drivers of consumption and consumer tastes are different. Morales points out that that the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are still at a level of more basic consumption, and the purchasing of heavy goods like cars is important.
However, “the ASEAN region has some of the best demographics in the world in terms of the age of its populations and the rate of growth in local the local economy, and this really supports our investing there,” Morales said.