Emerging markets get no love even as US bats up record highs

Leslie Shaffer | Writer for
Jay Directo | AFP | Getty Images

The markets' taper tantrum may have ended, but while U.S. shares are batting up against fresh record highs, funds still aren't finding their way back to most emerging markets.

"A sense of deja vu has taken place in emerging Asian markets," Kelly Teoh, a market strategist at IG, said in a note, highlighting that for the week ending November 6, foreign funds flowed out of Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and South Korea.

On Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average tacked on 0.8 percent to a record closing high of 15,746.88, while the S&P 500 added 0.4 percent to 1770.49, just a few points shy of its own all-time high. But while they've recovered from their August lows, Indonesian, Thai and Philippine shares remain as much as 15 percent off their May peaks.

(Read more: Emerging market reprieve is only temporary: Pimco)

"Moving towards the end of the year, investors' bias towards U.S. assets will likely continue and the divergence between emerging Asian markets and developed markets might widen," she said.

The region's structural problems, which came into focus mid-year and may have been masked by the Federal Reserve's decision to delay tapering its asset purchases, have only become more apparent, she said.

"Indonesia started off the month suffering a sell-off; trade data showed a slump and the current account deficit is likely to remain for a period of time. Malaysia's current account surplus is fast narrowing, leaving the country's currency vulnerable to any changes in the [Federal Reserve's] policy," she said.

(Read more: Should the US be treated like an emerging market? )

It might not be only about the macro. "Emerging market firms overall exhibit weaker aggregate earnings quality than developed market firms," Morgan Stanley said in a note. To determine earnings quality, the bank considers factors including whether margins are sustainable, asset quality and financial reporting metrics.

But not everyone wants to follow the funds flowing out of the region.

"What's happening in the U.S. at the moment is a reflection of the fact that the economy is getting better. We're not looking at boom times by any means, but certainly the economy is gradually picking up," said Ayaz Ebrahim, chief investment officer for Asia ex-Japan at Amundi, which has around 750 billion euros under management. But he added, U.S. market valuations are no longer cheap.

Taper timing and impact on emerging markets
Taper timing and impact on emerging markets

With the U.S. economy improving, "we are seeing export numbers in Asia getting better at the margin. And if you look at Asian valuations today, they are very, very cheap," he told CNBC.

"One of the reasons Asia has been trading cheaply is because of concerns on China," but the mainland's authorities are handling the economic slowdown and banking system issues in a "systematic" way, he said.

"China's not going to grow at 8-8.5 percent anymore. But again, the market knows that now," he said, advising buying into Asia.

Credit Agricole also sees a "window of opportunity" for emerging markets.

"A combination of gradual reacceleration of the emerging market momentum and no urgency for global central banks to tighten suggests that flows could come back to emerging markets in coming weeks," Credit Agricole said in a note.

(Read more: Has the IMF got it wrong on emerging markets?)

It expects the U.S. unemployment rate rose in October amid the government shutdown, likely making the prospect of the Fed tapering its asset purchases appear "less threatening." U.S. jobs data for October are due Friday.

It advised taking a long position on the highest-yielding Asian currencies, India's rupee and Indonesia's rupiah.

But it added, "we remain fundamentally bearish on both currencies in the medium term, and any long position should be treated as very tactical." It noted emerging-market investors' sentiment remains "fickle."

—By CNBC's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on twitter @LeslieShaffer1