Emerging vs developed? What if it’s not a competition?

Leslie Shaffer | Writer for
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Selling emerging markets and buying into developed ones has been the consensus call since the U.S. Federal Reserve broached the idea it would taper its asset purchases, but what if the two spheres aren't really in opposition?

"The general thesis they have – which most people have – is that there's going to be a strong recovery in the developed markets and as a consequence, particularly because of the Fed tapering action, the emerging markets will tank," said Piyush Gupta, chief executive of DBS Group, at a presentation to private banking clients.

"I agree with half of the thesis. I tend to believe that the recovery in the developed markets will happen and continue to happen this year," he said. "But I have to say I am not in the camp that says this is a zero-sum game and if the developed markets do well that necessarily means emerging markets are going to go down."

(Read more: Goldman: Cut your emerging markets exposure by a third)

For much of 2013, markets have behaved as if they believed that was the case, with shares in the U.S., Japan and Europe climbing, while emerging markets convulsed.

But Gupta doesn't expect that will continue.

"When there is a degree of confidence particularly in the U.S. and in the large U.S. investor community, that confidence actually spills over favorably to the rest of the world as opposed to unfavorably," he said.

Additionally, within Asia, "the general view is that as rates go up, dollars and money will leave Asia, credit will start getting tight and as credit starts getting tight, Asia will have a bit of a problem," he noted.

Will this be the year for emerging markets?
Will this be the year for emerging markets?

But he added, "Asia's had five years of growth with zero demand from the West. Surely that growth comes from somewhere? It comes from domestic consumption and domestic demand." He expects the "demographic dividend" from Asia's younger population as well as urbanization and infrastructure development will continue to drive significant demand in the region.

(Read more: Emerging markets get no love even as US bats up record highs)

Gupta also has some doubts about tapering causing further fund outflows from the region.

"Of all the QE3 [quantitative easing] money that was put out, the interesting things is that 85 percent of the money went back into the Federal Reserve bank. The corporates and the banks in the U.S. are sitting on piles of money because they didn't put the money to work," he said.

"When they start feeling more confident and you want to start using some of the money, where are you going to use it," he asked. "Do you think a lot of the global investment corporates are going to invest massively in the U.S. and Europe and not allocate capital to Asia? It sounds like a far-fetched theory to me."

(Read more: Some fund managers turn positive on emerging markets)

Others are also resisting the urge for blanket pessimism on emerging markets.

"Whilst emerging markets have been a disappointing investment over the last couple of years, I think people overlook the fact that the emerging world is still growing faster than the developed world," said Richard Titherington, chief investment officer for emerging markets at JPMorgan Asset Management, in a panel discussion at the DBS event. "People are very excited about Japan growing at 1 percent and they're very pessimistic about China growing at 7 percent," he noted.

Three emerging market plays
Three emerging market plays

(Read more: Next emerging market sell-off may be time to pounce)

"The extreme monetary policies the U.S., Europe and most recently Japan have been a headwind for the emerging world because we don't need those kind of policies," Titherington said.

But while he's more optimistic on the economic outlook than much of the consensus, he isn't certain that equities in the emerging markets will outperform their developed peers.

"If you get another 20 or 30 percent from U.S. equities, are emerging market equities going to do better than that? Tricky. But are emerging markets going to go up themselves? Yes, I think they will," he said. "Generally, if you buy what's cheap, it'll come back and mean revert in your favor."

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1