Asian bonds may suffer most if QE on ice

April 3, 2012

Bonds issued in emerging market currencies have been red-hot favourites with investors this year, garnering returns of 8.3 percent so far in 2012. But for some the happy days are drawing to a close — U.S. Treasury yields are nudging higher as the U.S. recovery gains a foothold and the Fed holds back from more money printing for now at least. That could spell trouble for emerging markets across the board (here’s something I wrote on this subject recently) but, according to JP Morgan, it is Asian bond markets that may bear the brunt.

Their graphic details weekly flows to local bond funds as measured by EPFR Global (in million US$). As on cue, these flows have tended to spike whenever central banks have pumped in cash. (Click the graphic to enlarge.)

Over the past several years,  inflows have driven local curves to very flat levels, but current levels of flatness are not sustainable if/when inflows begin to slow, let alone reverse.As there is a clear correlation between the Fed’s “QE periods” and large inflows into Asian markets, we think the next few months will be difficult for Asian bonds markets (JPM writes)

JP Morgan says risks are greatest for Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand because that’s where foreign ownership ratios are largest – in Indonesia for instance foreigners hold a third of local debt. Deficits in these three countries are also rising meaning debt issuance is rising faster than elsewhere, the bank warned. It advises clients to be underweight Asian local debt (countered by overweights in Latin  America and emerging Europe)

Asian currencies face risks too –from China. The yuan is up 30 percent since mid-2005 but ended March with its first quarterly loss since 2009 and many reckon China, fearful of an exports slowdown will not permit any more big rises for now. Asian governments will have to fall into step if they want their own exports to compete. And that, JPM says, is robbing the region’s currencies of a major support anchor.

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