Emerging Market Economy Definition: Examples and How They Work

Emerging Market Economy: A country that's transitioning from a low income, often pre-industrial economy toward a modern, industrial economy with a higher standard of living.

Investopedia / Jiaqi Zhou

What Is an Emerging Market Economy?

An emerging market economy is the economy of a developing nation that is becoming more engaged with global markets as it grows. Countries classified as emerging market economies are those with some, but not all, of the characteristics of a developed market.

Characteristics of developed markets may include strong economic growth, high per capita income, liquid equity and debt markets, accessibility by foreign investors, and a dependable regulatory system.

As an emerging market economy develops, it typically becomes more integrated with the global economy. That means it can have increased liquidity in local debt and equity markets, increased trade volume and foreign direct investment. It can develop modern financial and regulatory institutions. Currently, some notable emerging market economies include India, Mexico, Russia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, and Brazil.

Critically, an emerging market economy is transitioning from a low income, less developed, often pre-industrial economy towards a modern, industrial economy with a higher standard of living.

Key Takeaways

  • An emerging market economy is an economy that's transitioning into a developed economy.
  • Emerging market economies typically feature a unified currency, stock market, and banking system; they're in the process of industrializing.
  • Emerging market economies can offer greater returns to investors due to their rapid growth.
  • They also offer greater exposure to some inherent risks due to their status.
  • Over time, emerging markets typically adopt reforms seen in developed markets.

Emerging Market Economy

Understanding an Emerging Market Economy

Investors seek out emerging markets for the prospect of high returns because these markets often experience faster economic growth as measured by gross domestic product (GDP). However, along with higher returns usually comes much greater risk.

Risks of Emerging Markets

This risk can include political instability, domestic infrastructure problems, currency volatility, and illiquid equity, as many large companies may still be state-run or private. Also, local stock exchanges may not offer liquid markets to outside investors.

Emerging markets generally do not have as highly developed market and regulatory institutions as those found in developed nations. Market efficiency and strict standards in accounting and securities regulation are generally not on par with advanced economies (such as those of the United States, Europe, and Japan).

Signs of Progress

However, emerging markets typically have a physical financial infrastructure, including banks, a stock exchange, and a unified currency. A key aspect of emerging market economies is that over time, they adopt reforms and institutions like those of modern developed countries. This promotes economic growth.

Emerging market economies tend to move away from activities focused on agricultural and resource extraction toward industrial and manufacturing activities. Their governments usually pursue deliberate industrial and trade strategies to encourage economic growth and industrialization.

These strategies include export led growth and import substituting industrialization. The former strategy is more typical of economies that are considered emerging since it promotes more engagement and trade with the global economy.

Emerging market countries also often pursue domestic programs such as investing in educational systems, building physical infrastructure, and enacting legal reforms to secure investors' property rights.

Frontier Markets

Frontier markets are usually smaller than emerging markets, with lower per capita income, less market liquidity, and less industrialization. While they offer attractive investment opportunities, frontier markets are considered riskier for investors than emerging markets.

How Emerging Market Economies Are Classified

Emerging market economies are classified in different ways by different observers. Levels of income, quality of financial systems, and growth rates are all popular criteria but the exact list of emerging market economies can vary depending on who you ask.

For example, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) classifies 23 countries as emerging markets while Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) classifies 24 countries as emerging markets. There are some differences between the two lists. Standard and Poor's (S&P) classifies 23 countries and FTSE Russell classifies 19 countries as emerging markets, while Dow Jones classifies 22 countries as emerging markets.

At any of these institutions' discretion, a country can be removed from the list by either upgrading it to developed nation status or downgrading it to a frontier nation. Likewise, developed nations may be downgraded to an emerging market, as was the case with Greece. Frontier markets may be upgraded to an emerging market, as was the case for Qatar and Argentina.

What's an Emerging Market Economy?

An emerging market economy generally is considered an economy that is transitioning into a developed market economy. It has rapid GDP growth, growing per capita income, increasing debt and equity markets liquidity, and an established financial system infrastructure.

What Countries Are Classified As Emerging Markets?

Classifications differ. However, the so-called BRICS countries represent 5 emerging markets with major economic growth and opportunities for investment. The GDP of these countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—have increased steadily from 2000 to the present day. That trend is expected to continue through the years ahead.

Do Emerging Markets Make Good Investments?

They can make good investments due to their propensity for rapid GDP growth compared to more mature markets. At the same time, investing in emerging markets can be risky due to, for instance, potential political instability, lack of dependable information, currency fluctuations, lower liquidity, and investment volatility. Carefully weigh potential risks and rewards before making any investment.

Article Sources
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  1. Nasdaq. "What is the difference between a developed, emerging, and frontier market?"

  2. Statista. "Gross domestic product (GDP) of the BRICS countries from 2000 to 2026."

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