Editor’s Note: This piece is part of the June issue of  
Finance & Development

As emerging market economies become increasingly important players in the global economy, their share of the global cross-border flows of financial assets is also rising. Because of their strong growth prospects, emerging market economies have attracted foreign investors in search of higher returns, especially at a time of very low interest rates in advanced economies. And flows have also gone in the other direction, as the governments of emerging market economies have built up their foreign exchange reserves by investing heavily in advanced economies.­

Recently, another phenomenon has gradually gained momentum: the outflow of private capital from emerging market economies as their investors seek overseas opportunities.­

Understanding the volumes and patterns of the various outflows—sovereign and private—and analyzing what influences them will shed light on how the landscape of international capital flows is likely to change as emerging market economies become more integrated into global financial markets. We look at the types of capital outflows from emerging markets and describe some preliminary results from our ongoing research, which shows that the direction of portfolio outflows—relatively small now, but with a large potential to expand—is heavily influenced by proximity and familiarity.

Exporting capital

Led by China, emerging markets added about $6 trillion to their foreign exchange reserves between 2000 and 2012—with nearly all of it invested in securities issued by the major reserve currency economies, mainly the United States. It is likely that these emerging market economies will accumulate foreign exchange reserves at a much slower pace in coming years because most have put away sufficient stocks of foreign reserves to help buffer any future capital flow volatility.

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