Emerging market debt is becoming an increasingly popular asset class with institutional investors. “Emerging market debt is a less and less exotic asset class, which currently offers premiums over corporate debt in US dollars,” says Erick Muller, senior product specialist for bond products at JP Morgan Asset Management. In the bond product range from JP Morgan, emerging market debt now accounts for a growing proportion. Assets as of the end of April totalled about USD21bn, with a marked rising trend, Muller says, due to strong demand from institutional investors. The process is at its very beginnings, but from his point of view, it is a structural trend, which will drive institutionals to increasingly opt for strategic allocation to emerging markets, where they had previously been inclined to limit themselves to tactical allocations to these markets. The cause of this development is a need for diversification in an environment in which the quest for returns is becoming increasingly difficult in the sphere of sovereign debt. The fundamentals of emerging markets, however, are highly attractive: stronger growth than in developed countries, budgetary control, money market policies which still offer room to manoeuvre, relatively low default rates, growth and recovery rates largely similar to those observed in the developed world, and lower volatility. The emerging market debt market is increasingly consistent, with a volume of issues of about USD200bn per year, and assets of about USD800bn, which is not at all ridiculous, given that US high yield assets weigh in at about USD1.2trn. However, the universe of companies is still limited by problems with transparency, which are becoming less severe as international growth inevitably implies an approach to international standards and practices. The rise of emerging market corporate debt as a part of institutional portfolios nonetheless looks set to continue. In this environment, could passive management be considered, as some are already doing? Muller says the answer is unambiguous: passive management involves too much dispersion; it magnifies the faults of issues, while active management can reduce them. The emerging market debt market is growing fast, but it is still young.