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EM ESG Options

edited January 2021 in Fund Discussions
A good background article, despite its date in 2018, can be found in this link to a NY Times article:

The Times article reviews many ESG strategies, including MFs, so I won’t repeat what is said there.

Inspired by a recent M* finding that ESG MFs and ETFs have been outperforming the indices against which they are measured, I took a closer look at a recommended ETF for broad EM coverage, namely IEMG, as well as two ETFs that have portfolios based on ESG principles. Nuveen (now owned by TIAA, which has offered a Social Choice balanced fund for many years) offers NUEM, an EM ESG fund using its proprietary index. Two other choices in this area are XTrackers EMSG and a 2020 addition to the mix, iShares LDEM. Both of the latter funds eliminate some companies based on the business (tobacco, alcohol, gambling, etc.) and then they apply ESG screens to the remaining MSCI EM stocks to eliminate bad governance, pollution, corruption, and so forth.

NUEM and EMSG have long enough track records to make comparisons possible. Since the lows of world markets in March, 2020, all EM funds have shot up. However, as predicted by the theorists and researchers, companies with higher ESG scores, including in this case EM companies, did outperform an index of unscreened firms. I lean towards NUEM because I know TIAA’s record in ESG investing. They may have a “secret sauce,” and were I looking to expand my EM allocation, this is where the money would go. If the theory is correct, long-term results should achieve similar outperformance.


  • Thanks for sharing this @BenWP. I wasn't aware of this fund. Another one you might want to take a look at is Matthews Asia ESG. It has performed quite well over the past 1 and 3 years and has a nice balanced portfolio across sectors. A bit more value oriented than most other Asian funds.
  • Good point, @MikeW: the Matthews fund, MASGX, has done really well in recent years. Over a five-year span it is tied in total return with the Calvert ESG entry, CVMAX. MASGX made up a lot of ground in the past two years. One of the nice things about the Matthews fact sheets is that they tabulate the exposure of the fund to various countries while showing how the exposure differs from the benchmark. MASGX is underweight China and overweight India and Japan (which accounts for zero in the index). Someone here lamented the passing of the Matthews Asia value fund; was that a result of a manager departure?
  • @BenWP yes that caught my eye too in the fund. They're sector exposure is also very interesting with strong weightings in consumer cyclical, financials, and industrials. So it is more value oriented. I havent bought it yet but watching it. Another fund Im really intrigued by is MATFX. Pull it up on Morningstar and you'll see it scores in the top 10% for pretty much every period from 1 week through 5 years. Ive been following the manager for awhile now. Very sharp guy. This is a growth fund focused on disruption. At some point I'll buy one of these or add to FSEAX.
  • here is an interview with the fund manager of FSEAX where he describes how he is rotating to value for 2021. Financials are now the largest sector in his portfolio.
  • msf
    edited January 2021
    It's not always easy to gauge a fund's style from its sectors, or its countries for that matter. For example, while companies in the financial sector tend to be value investments, that doesn't make something like Robinhood's anticipated IPO a value play.

    In any case, according to the FSEAX's latest monthly fact sheet (Dec 31), just 9.19% of the portfolio is in financials, down from 11.07% at the end of November. In comparison, technology accounts for about 1/3 of the fund.

    Zhao says that he has "reduced some positions ... that have done well and added to those that are more exposed to the value side [i.e. those that have not done well]. ... it only makes sense to take some profits off the table and begin to plan what might come next."

    That sounds more like rebalancing than a change it target weighting. The interview is dated Oct 31. M*'s factor analysis based on the fund's Nov 30th portfolio shows the fund to be more toward the growth side of the value/growth spectrum than in any time over the past five years, and also more growth focused than the category average.

    Regarding countries: FSEAX counts the 12% of its portfolio in Korea as EM. Most index providers consider Korea a developed country. MSCI is the laggard, still calling Korea an EM country - because the won isn't traded 24 hours/day, not because its gross national income is too low or its stock market too small (they're not).

    Some investors posit that separate international funds are not needed because so many domestic countries derive much of their revenue globally. By that reasoning, what are we to say about TSMC (6% of the fund)? Is it really an EM company? Based in Taiwan, it gets 60% of its revenue from the US.

    None of this is meant to suggest that FSEAX isn't good at what it does. Rather it's to suggest taking a closer look at this, or any fund, to understand what it's really doing.
  • @msf makes good points and my take-away is that we as shareholders learn late in the game what a manager’s strategy might be (or was at a point in the past). Most MF prospecti give latitude to permit an active manager to shift back and forth between growth and value, or cash and fully invested, etc. It’s nice when a fund stays true to its advertised mandate, but I suspect purity suffers in the face of markets that refuse to follow some wonk’s thinking. Once I find a fund I like, I’m inclined to let management pick the stocks.

    There are stocks and countries in EM indices that do defy pigeon-holing. When I lived in Seoul in 1980-1 the excavations for the subway line revealed that underground sewer pipes were nothing more than 55-gallon drums welded together. Korea really was emerging then. Today a visitor would be struck by the modernity of the city whereas the former resident might be trying to mentally resurrect the missing odor of sewage gas that once assaulted the nostrils in the capital. One steps off the plane in New Delhi, OTOH, and one smells an acrid smoke, a combination of industrial pollutants and the open fires burning in the streets to warm people and to cook their meals. Maybe Korea should not be in EM funds, but Taiwan is pretty modern, also.
  • @msf thanks for sharing this. You are correct. I was looking at a fact sheet for the fidelity international version of Fidelity emerging asia which has 30% in financials. 2 different funds with the same name. FSEAX still has its growth focus. Excellent fund though

    Fidelity International › SG-enPDF
    Fidelity Funds - Emerging Asia Fund - Fidelity International
  • @msf, thanks for sharing your analysis on Asia EM funds. For sure Korea and Taiwan have advanced beyond the definition of emerging market. Several of their companies including TSMC and Samsung are powerhouses to supply chipsets for cars and mobile devices today - quite impressive.
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