By Dion Rabouin and Sujata Rao
NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - A little more than a week after Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, a growing number of emerging market fund managers are saying a selloff in Mexican assets may represent a buying opportunity.
Mexican stocks, currency and debt have been hammered since Trump’s surprise victory last week, fueled by concern about the U.S. president-elect’s campaign promises to renegotiate or scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The Mexican rout was the most dramatic part of a wider emerging markets slide that reflected not just anxiety about Trump's anti-trade views but also the prospect of higher U.S. yields stoked by increased stimulus under the new administration.
But some emerging market investors are expecting a bounce-back, betting President Trump could be less inclined to implement protectionist trade policies than candidate Trump.
“Our base case is that President-elect Trump will be more pragmatic relating to trade and immigration,” said Chuck Knudsen, emerging markets equity portfolio specialist at T Rowe Price. “We think he’ll try to find ways to work within NAFTA."
The prospect of introducing mass changes in U.S. trade policy will prove much more politically and economically complicated than the president-elect realizes, said Mark Burgess, chief investment officer of Columbia Threadneedle Investments, adding that he viewed Mexico as a “buy” for the long-term.
Trump also has more “low-hanging fruit” to focus on domestically, including proposals for infrastructure investment and tax cuts, repatriation of corporate assets and overhauling regulations, said Alejo Czerwonko, director of emerging markets investment strategy at UBS.
Even in the short-term, some investors see Mexico as ripe for bargain-hunting, with the MXSE IPC index's <.MXX> price-to-earnings ratio at its lowest since August 2015, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon data.
“I would buy now absolutely – with a 2017 perspective,” said Didier Saint-Georges, a member of the investment committee at Carmignac Gestion, speaking at the Reuters Investment Summit in London. “It could well be the top performing emerging market next year for all I know.”
Though many investors appear bullish, such views are far from unanimous.
BlackRock's Global Chief Investment Officer of Fixed Income Rick Rieder, whose firm last year upped its emerging markets exposure, now says he is stepping back from the asset class as a whole.
FIS Group’s chief investment and chief enterprise officer Tina Byles Williams said Trump’s “notably fluid” positions have taken her from neutral on emerging markets to underweight.
Lipper data showed on Thursday that inflows to emerging markets equity funds declined to the lowest level since August 2015 and emerging market debt funds saw their largest withdrawls on record.
If Trump were to actually implement his campaign promises, “there’s downside from the perspective of any (Mexican) asset class you look at,” Czerwonko said.
That worry helped Mexico’s peso fall as much as 17 percent to an all-time low after Election Day. Mexico’s economy was already plagued by shrinking growth rates and sagging oil revenues, making its currency one of the world's worst performers even before Trump's victory.
The selloff has roiled all of Mexico’s financial markets, with the BMV stock exchange falling more than 7 percent since the U.S. election, touching its lowest since June. The dollar-denominated MSCI Mexico Index has plunged as much as 19 percent.
Still, the slide in the peso, down 12 percent since the election, will bolster the Mexican economy by reducing the price of labor, Saint-Georges said.
“The Mexican economy is today more competitive than it was a year ago, just about,” he said.
Some investors are putting such views into action. U.S.-based funds investing in Latin American stocks netted $672 million in cash during the weekly period through Nov. 16, the most since September 2013.
The $1.7 billion U.S.-listed iShares MSCI Mexico Capped ETF <EWW.P> attracted the most money among funds in that category, sweeping in $627 million for the week.
Javier Murcio, senior sovereign analyst for emerging market strategies at Standish, a division of Bank of New York Mellon Corp <BK.N>, believes even if Trump does intend to scrap NAFTA, Republicans in Congress would be reluctant to get onboard.
"Even a more radical call from the Trump administration to repeal NAFTA in practice will really mean open negotiations to change or update certain areas," he said.
(Reporting By Dion Rabouin; Editing by Christian Plumb)