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Huge institutions bullish on 'beaten up' emerging markets

Jane Mendillo, president and chief executive officer, Harvard Management Co.
Heidi Gutman | CNBC | Getty Images

Some of the largest institutional investors in the world are bullish on emerging markets, believing the beaten-up asset class now offers compelling opportunity.

"We're now at a point where valuations are low, investment management expertise has grown and we should be able to get great stock picking there. I'm excited about the opportunities," Jane Mendillo, president and CEO of $32.7 billion Harvard Management Co., said at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Mendillo noted that emerging markets are trading at a 40 percent price-earnings discount to developed ones.

"We like the U.S. but we like emerging markets more," the Harvard endowment manager added.

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Another large institutional manager interested in emerging markets was Seema Hingorani, chief investment officer for $147 billion on behalf of various New York City public pensions.

"Emerging markets also look interesting from a valuation perspective," Hingorani said on the same panel discussion.

She noted developing country stocks in particular, because they have "been really beaten up."

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Michael Sabia, CEO for $200 billion pension plan La Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, also noted opportunities in the sector.

Sabia said he was especially looking for investment opportunities in countries with growing upper-middle classes as they transition from export to consumer-driven economies.

"That interests us a lot and we're looking for opportunities there," Sabia said.

Li Keping, president and CIO of more than $600 billion sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corp., also chimed in on his like of emerging markets, citing their long-term growth potential and attractive valuations.

Besides emerging markets, other investment opportunities noted by the panelists included technology and biotech (Mendillo); U.S. energy, infrastructure and real estate (Sabia); and private investments in distressed assets in Europe (Keping and Hingorani).

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—By CNBC's Lawrence Delevingne.