An emerging market economy (EME) is defined as an economy with low to middle per capita income. Such countries constitute approximately 80% of the global population, and represent about 20% of the world's economies. The term was coined in 1981 by Antoine W. Van Agtmael of the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank.

Although the term "emerging market" is loosely defined, countries that fall into this category, varying from very big to very small, are usually considered emerging because of their developments and reforms. Hence, even though China is deemed one of the world's economic powerhouses, it is lumped into the category alongside much smaller economies with a great deal less resources, like Tunisia. Both China and Tunisia belong to this category because both have embarked on economic development and reform programs, and have begun to open up their markets and "emerge" onto the global scene. EMEs are considered to be fast-growing economies.

What an EME Looks Like
EMEs are characterized as transitional, meaning they are in the process of moving from a closed economy to an open market economy while building accountability within the system. Examples include the former Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries. As an emerging market, a country is embarking on an economic reform program that will lead it to stronger and more responsible economic performance levels, as well as transparency and efficiency in the capital market. An EME will also reform its exchange rate system because a stable local currency builds confidence in an economy, especially when foreigners are considering investing. Exchange rate reforms also reduce the desire for local investors to send their capital abroad (capital flight). Besides implementing reforms, an EME is also most likely receiving aid and guidance from large donor countries and/or world organizations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

One key characteristic of the EME is an increase in both local and foreign investment (portfolio and direct). A growth in investment in a country often indicates that the country has been able to build confidence in the local economy. Moreover, foreign investment is a signal that the world has begun to take notice of the emerging market, and when international capital flows are directed toward an EME, the injection of foreign currency into the local economy adds volume to the country's stock market and long-term investment to the infrastructure.

For foreign investors or developed-economy businesses, an EME provides an outlet for expansion by serving, for example, as a new place for a new factory or for new sources of revenue. For the recipient country, employment levels rise, labor and managerial skills become more refined, and a sharing and transfer of technology occurs. In the long-run, the EME's overall production levels should rise, increasing its gross domestic product and eventually lessening the gap between the emerged and emerging worlds.

Portfolio Investment and Risks
Because their markets are in transition and hence not stable, emerging markets offer an opportunity to investors who are looking to add some risk to their portfolios. The possibility for some economies to fall back into a not-completely-resolved civil war or a revolution sparking a change in government could result in a return to nationalization, expropriation and the collapse of the capital market. Because the risk of an EME investment is higher than an investment in a developed market, panic, speculation and knee-jerk reactions are also more common - the 1997 Asian crisis, during which international portfolio flows into these countries actually began to reverse themselves, is a good example of how EMEs can be high-risk investment opportunities. (For more insight on getting into emerging economies, read Forging Frontier Markets.)

However, the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward, so emerging market investments have become a standard practice among investors aiming to diversify while adding risk. (For more details on the advantages and disadvantages of making foreign investments, see Is Offshore Investing For You? and Going International.)

Local Politics vs. Global Economy
An emerging market economy must have to weigh local political and social factors as it attempts to open up its economy to the world. The people of an emerging market, who are accustomed to being protected from the outside world, can often be distrustful of foreign investment. Emerging economies may also often have to deal with issues of national pride because citizens may be opposed to having foreigners owning parts of the local economy.

Moreover, opening up an emerging economy means that it will also be exposed not only to new work ethics and standards, but also to new cultures. The introduction and impact of, say, fast food and music videos to some local markets has been a by-product of foreign investment. Over the generations, this can change the very fabric of a society and if a population is not fully trusting of change, it may fight back hard to stop it.

Although emerging economies may be able to look forward to brighter opportunities and offer new areas of investment for foreign and developed economies, local officials in EMEs need to consider the effects of an open economy on citizens. Furthermore, investors need to determine the risks when considering investing in an EME. The process of emergence may be difficult, slow and often stagnant at times. And even though emerging markets have survived global and local challenges in the past, they had to overcome some large obstacles to do so.

Related Articles
  1. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: iShares MSCI All Country Asia ex Japan

    Take an in-depth look at the iShares MSCI All Country Asia ex Japan ETF, an international fund dedicated to Asian equities outside of Japan.
  2. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Top 3 ETFs for Investing in India

    Find out which exchange-traded funds are poised to perform the best with the continued rise of the Indian economy as a major emerging market.
  3. Investing Basics

    Why Interest Rates Affect Everyone

    Learn why interest rates are one of the most important economic variables and how every individual and business is affected by rate changes.
  4. Economics

    Investing Opportunities as Central Banks Diverge

    After the Paris attacks investors are focusing on central bank policy and its potential for divergence: tightened by the Fed while the ECB pursues easing.
  5. Economics

    Long-Term Investing Impact of the Paris Attacks

    We share some insights on how the recent terrorist attacks in Paris could impact the economy and markets going forward.
  6. Stock Analysis

    An Introduction To The Indian Stock Market

    Most trading in the Indian stock market occurs through its two exchanges – the Bombay Stock Exchange and the National Stock Exchange.
  7. Savings

    How Americans Can Open a Bank Account In Thailand

    Have your paperwork in order and be sure to shop around.
  8. Chart Advisor

    Copper Continues Its Descent

    Copper prices have been under pressure lately and based on these charts it doesn't seem that it will reverse any time soon.
  9. Economics

    Understanding Donald Trump's Stance on China

    Find out why China bothers Donald Trump so much, and why the 2016 Republican presidential candidate argues for a return to protectionist trade policies.
  10. Forex Fundamentals

    How to Buy Chinese Yuan

    Discover the different options that are available to investors who want to obtain exposure to the Chinese yuan, including ETFs and ETNs.
  1. What are the main reasons for investing in the retail sector?

    The retail sector is diverse, dynamic and extremely susceptible to changing consumer tastes, yet the industry seems to grow ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What telecommunication companies have the largest exposure to emerging markets?

    The telecom companies with the most exposure to emerging markets are usually the ones that are politically favored. More ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What emerging markets are best suited for investing in the oil & gas drilling sector?

    Over the past decade, emerging markets have driven the demand and production for oil and natural gas to new heights. Rising ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Is Malaysia a developed country?

    Despite undergoing rapid economic development over the past five decades, Malaysia is not considered a developed country, ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How do you make working capital adjustments in transfer pricing?

    Transfer pricing refers to prices that a multinational company or group charges a second party operating in a different tax ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How do mutual funds work in India?

    Mutual funds in India work in much the same way as mutual funds in the United States. Like their American counterparts, Indian ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Take A Bath

    A slang term referring to the situation of an investor who has experienced a large loss from an investment or speculative ...
  2. Black Friday

    1. A day of stock market catastrophe. Originally, September 24, 1869, was deemed Black Friday. The crash was sparked by gold ...
  3. Turkey

    Slang for an investment that yields disappointing results or turns out worse than expected. Failed business deals, securities ...
  4. Barefoot Pilgrim

    A slang term for an unsophisticated investor who loses all of his or her wealth by trading equities in the stock market. ...
  5. Quick Ratio

    The quick ratio is an indicator of a company’s short-term liquidity. The quick ratio measures a company’s ability to meet ...
  6. Black Tuesday

    October 29, 1929, when the DJIA fell 12% - one of the largest one-day drops in stock market history. More than 16 million ...
Trading Center