With pension reform, Poland joins the sell-off. More to come
If the backdrop for global emerging markets (GEM) were not already challenging enough, there are, these days, some authorities that step in and try to make things even worse, writes Societe Generale strategist Benoit Anne. He speaks of course of Poland, where the government this week announced plans to transfer 121 billion zlotys ($36.99 billion) in bonds held by private pension funds to the state and subsequently cancel them. The move, aimed at cutting public debt by 8 percentage points, led to a 5 percent crash yesterday on the Warsaw stock exchange, while 10-year bond yields have spiralled almost 50 basis points since the start of the week. So Poland, which had escaped the worst of the emerging markets sell-off so far, has now joined in.
But worse is probably to come. Liquidity on Polish stock and bond markets will certainly take a hit — the reform removes a fifth of the outstanding government debt. That drop will decrease the weights of Polish bonds in popular global indices, in turn reducing demand for the debt from foreign investors benchmarked to those indices. Citi’s World Government Bond Index, for instance, has around $2 trillion benchmarked to it and contains only five emerging economies. That includes Poland whose weight of 0.55 percent assumes roughly $11 billion is invested it in by funds hugging the benchmark.
According to analysts at JPMorgan:
The most significant local market impact of the Polish pension reforms is likely to come from index-related selling as the weight of Polish government local currency debt in major global bond indices, including Citi’s WGBI and the Barclays Global Aggregate index, is likely to fall. Our base case scenario sees $3.5 billion worth of index-related selling, with risks skewed to the upside
Investors could also well decide to cut their allocations towards Polish bond holdings in portfolios after the pension changes especially if they expect the liquidity premium to rise. A general move from being 25 percent overweight the world bond benchmarks to a neutral positioning would see an additional $10 billion flee, JPM calculate:
Assuming that cross-over investors are overweight Poland in their portfolios, which we believe to be likely, then the potential selling pressures on Polish government bonds could be substantially higher.
The private pension funds, many of them foreign-owned, are challenging the decision in court.