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Emerging Markets Bond Index

Category — Analytical Metrics
By Konstantin Vasilev Member of the Board of Directors of Cbonds, Ph.D. in Economics
Updated July 1, 2023

What Is the Bond Index?

A bond index or bond market index is a method of evaluating the performance and characteristics of the bond market. It involves measuring the aggregate bond market and its various sectors, such as government, municipal, and corporate bonds, using different indices with specific constructions. A bond index is calculated based on changes in market prices and, in the case of a total return index, includes interest payments over a specified period.

What Is the Emerging Markets Bond Index (EMBI)?

The Emerging Markets Bond Index (EMBI) serves as a benchmark for measuring the total return performance of bonds issued by emerging market countries that meet specific liquidity and structural requirements. These bonds are denominated in US dollars and traded on the secondary market, allowing investors to access larger debt stocks in emerging economies. The EMBI index includes both government and corporate bonds, reflecting the diverse range of debt instruments traded externally.

Investing in the EMBI allows funds to allocate their investments to a global market encompassing various emerging market bonds. This includes sovereign bonds and broker-traded debt instruments issued by governments and corporations in developing countries. While these bonds carry credit risk and changes can influence their performance in interest rates, they offer potentially higher yields compared to investment-grade bonds in developed markets.

Understanding the EMBI

An emerging market refers to a developing country or economy that is progressing toward becoming more advanced by rapidly industrializing and adopting free-market economies. The largest emerging markets include Nigeria, China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Poland, Mexico, Turkey, Argentina, Russia, and others. To take advantage of the rapid growth occurring in these countries, investors look to bonds issued by the governments of these nations.

Emerging market debt or bonds are considered sovereign debt. These government bonds are typically issued in foreign currencies, such as US dollars, euros, or Japanese yen. Due to the increased economic and political risks present in these countries, the credit rating of emerging market bonds tends to be lower than that of developed market bonds. However, these bonds offer higher yields to compensate investors for the perceived higher risk compared to more stable bonds in developed countries. In the past, the PIMCO Emerging Local Bond Fund delivered a total return of over 14% in the first nine months of 2017, while the iShares Core US Aggregate Bond ETF gained 3.1% during the same time period. Investors who desire exposure to emerging economies and are willing to accept additional risk typically do so through mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that track the performance of a benchmark index, such as the Emerging Markets Bond Index (EMBI) Global.

How is the EMBI calculated?

The EMBI (Emerging Markets Bond Index) is a financial index that measures the performance of dollar-denominated emerging market government bonds. It is used by investors to assess the risk and return of investing in emerging market debt. The EMBI is calculated by the J.P. Morgan Investment Bank.

The calculation of the EMBI involves several steps:

  1. Country Selection. J.P. Morgan selects a group of eligible emerging market countries based on certain criteria such as market size, liquidity, and accessibility.

  2. Bond Selection. Within each selected country, J.P. Morgan identifies a set of eligible bonds for inclusion in the index. These bonds must meet specific criteria related to maturity, size, and liquidity.

  3. Weighting. Each eligible bond is assigned a weight in the index based on its market value. The weight reflects the proportion of the bond’s market value relative to the total market value of all eligible bonds in the index.

  4. Price and Yield Calculation. J.P. Morgan collects price and yield information for the selected bonds on a regular basis. The prices are used to calculate the market value of each bond, while the yields are used to assess the performance of the index.

  5. Index Calculation. The EMBI is calculated using a weighted average approach. The market values of the bonds are multiplied by their respective weights and then summed up to derive the overall index value.

  6. Index Maintenance. The EMBI is periodically reviewed and rebalanced to ensure it remains representative of the emerging market bond universe. New bonds may be added, and existing bonds may be removed or replaced based on predefined criteria.

What is the use of the EMBI?

Emerging markets bond indexes are widely used as benchmarks to assess the performance of bonds in emerging markets. Some of the most well-known indexes in this category include the JP Morgan EMBI+ Index, JP Morgan EMBI Global Index, and JP Morgan EMBI Global Diversified Index.

The EMBI+ Index specifically focuses on Brady bonds, which are dollar-denominated bonds predominantly issued by countries in Latin America. It also encompasses other dollar-denominated loans and Eurobonds, expanding upon J.P. Morgan’s original Emerging Markets Bond Index (EMBI) that was introduced in 1992 and initially covered only Brady bonds.

The countries included in the EMBI+ index are carefully selected based on their sovereign credit rating level. The market capitalization of government bonds determines the index’s weightings. However, the EMBI+ index applies stringent liquidity requirements, leading to the exclusion of certain markets. To qualify for index membership, the debt must have a maturity exceeding one year, with an outstanding face value of at least $500 million. Additionally, the traded external debt instruments must meet strict trading guidelines to ensure that any pricing inefficiencies do not impact the accuracy of the index.

What are the risks and benefits of investing in emerging markets?

One of the most attractive features of investing in emerging markets is their potential for high growth. These economies are developing and often experience a surge in demand for goods and services, offering investors the opportunity to achieve significant returns. Moreover, emerging markets often have lower labor and production costs, making them appealing to companies seeking expansion. This can lead to increased profits and a rise in stock prices.

Diversification is another potential benefit of investing in emerging markets. You can reduce overall investment risk by allocating a portion of your portfolio to companies based in these markets. Emerging markets typically have a lower correlation with developed markets, such as the United States and Europe. Therefore, if one market experiences a downturn, investments in other markets may not be affected similarly.

However, investing in emerging markets also carries certain risks. One significant risk is political instability. These markets may have less stable governments and be more susceptible to corruption and other political issues. Sudden changes in regulations or policies can impact the companies you have invested in.

Currency volatility is another risk associated with investing in emerging markets. These markets often have less stable currencies, which can affect the value of your investments. Currency fluctuations can present both opportunities and risks, so it is crucial to understand how these movements can impact your investments.

Additionally, emerging markets may have less developed financial markets, which can pose challenges in trading or accessing your investments. Longer settlement times, higher transaction costs, and greater risks may be encountered due to the less mature nature of these markets.


  • Should I invest in EMB?

  • Are bond index funds a good idea?

  • What are the three major bond indexes?

  • What is the symbol for emerging markets?

  • What is the EMBI+?

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