“Embrace the unexpected” is the mantra for investors in the developing markets of Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and South Africa, according to Raj Sinha, head of equity research for EEMEA and LATAM for HSBC.
“These markets have experienced a lot of volatility over the past six to 12 months due to a range of geopolitical events, supply chain disruptions, the impact of oil prices, and inflation more broadly across the region,” he said. “This has led to a change in the Emerging EMEA landscape and constituents.”
This includes an increasing investor interest in the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia in particular. Sinha reported that Vision 2030 — the Saudi government’s sweeping aim to diversity its economy and quality of life for its citizens — has seen tangible progress recently.
Sophie Warrick, head of EMEA Equity Research at JPMorgan Chase & Co., likewise reported a shift toward the Middle East, North Africa, and Saudi Arabia, both on the secondary side in categories like index weights and trading volumes as well as in primary markets. Gulf Cooperation Council countries are “now about 60 percent of Emerging EMEA by index weight,” she said. “While the geopolitical events in CEEMEA in the last 12 months accelerated this transition, the emergence of Saudi has also been on the back of its economic growth, pegged currency, and rapid capital market development. Investors are working hard on getting up to speed; understanding the macro stories, getting to know the companies bottom-up and traveling to the region, especially Saudi, in some cases for the first time. Our strong local franchise combined with global client reach has allowed us to be at the forefront of this shift.”
Participants in Institutional Investor’s annual Emerging EMEA Research Team ranking agree: They have once again voted JPMorgan as the region’s No. 1 research provider. This year, however, the firm shares the crown with HSBC, which was elevated from last year’s second place finish based on the opinions of 879 investment professionals across 477 institutions with significant emerging EMEA securities holdings.
The rest of the leaderboard remained unchanged from 2021, with BofA Securities repeating its third-place finish and UBS and Morgan Stanley taking fourth and fifth, respectively.
Virtual meetings, access, and events have been hugely important tools and have helped to keep HSBC connected to both clients and its broader research team, according to Dr Murat Ulgen, the firm’s global head of emerging markets research. “That said, we still think meeting in person is vital to relationships, which is why we’ve prioritized getting in front of our clients in 2022 and making the most of opportunities for business travel,” Ulgen said.
Travel and marketing have returned more meaningfully this year for JPMorgan with a lot more trips to emerging EMEA countries and analyst marketing, according to Warrick. "The space between physical trips also continues to be followed with more client engagement than last year, and significantly more than pre-Covid,” she said.
The return of in-person engagement will be important as firms report that there is currently a great deal happening on the ground.
“The region has seen the knock-on effect of the Russia-Ukraine war: Our proprietary HSBC Emerging Markets Sentiment Survey clearly shows investors’ rising interest in the Middle East and, to a lesser extent Africa, at the expense of Central & Eastern Europe within the EMEA universe,” said Ulgen.
HSBC believes its on-the-ground presence is paramount especially in emerging EMEA. “Covid-19 has revealed some of the disconnect that exists when you might not have access to on-the-ground local knowledge,” Ulgen added. “It quickly became clear that there’s so much news flow, development, and shift in sentiment, that our local presence on the ground in key markets is a significant part of our value proposition.”
JPMorgan also cited the combination of its global reach with its presence in the region as a key differentiator. “Our differentiation comes from strong regional presence combined with global reach and perspective: we have onshore teams in all key markets of Emerging EMEA and hence were able to fully address client demand that shifted towards MENA and South Africa in 2022,” said Warrick. “We combine local presence with the broader research platform to translate our scale into genuinely differentiated content for clients.” The firm continues to invest in its CEEMA franchise, notably in MENA this year.