Happy birthday EMBI! The index group, the main benchmark for emerging market bond investors, turns 20 this year. When officially launched on Dec 31 1993, the world was a different place. The Mexican, Asian and Russian financial crises were still ahead, as was Argentina’s $100 billion debt default. The euro zone didn’t exist, let alone its debt crisis. Emerging debt was something only the most reckless investors dabbled in.
All eyes on the Hungarian central bank this week. Not so much on tomorrow’s policy meeting (a 25 bps rate cut is almost a foregone conclusion) but on Friday’s nomination of a new governor by Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Expectations are for Economy Minister Gyorgy Matolcsy to get the job, paving the way for an extended easing cycle. Swaps markets are currently pricing some 100 basis points of rate cuts over the coming six months in Hungary — the question is, could this go further? With tomorrow’s meeting to be the last by incumbent Andras Simor, clues over future policy are unlikely, but analysts canvassed by Reuters reckon interest rates could fall to 4.5 percent by the third quarter, compared to their prediction for a 5 percent trough in last month’s poll.
Financial markets have had one of those weeks of frenetic activity when each asset class blames the other for driving direction, few agree on an overall driver and it’s hard to square relative moves. What seems to be true is that idiosyncratic and locally-focussed factors are back in vogue – witness the lunge in sterling as the BoE nods at more QE and higher inflation, or the sudden dive in commodities even as global stock markets nudged 5-year highs. Micro or national issues are getting more play as the stress busting of recent months seems to have reduced cross-market correlations that characterised every ebb and flow of the overarching ‘global crisis’ for years.
Ten-year Indian bond yields have fallen 30 basis points this year alone and many forecast the gains will extend further. It all depends on two things though — the Feb 28 budget of which great things are expected, and second, the March 19 central bank meeting. The latter potentially could see the RBI, arguably the world’s most hawkish central bank, finally turn dovish.
The excitement continues over Russian assets becoming Euroclearable. Euroclear’s head confirmed last week to journalists in Moscow that corporate debt would be the next step, potentially becoming eligible for settlement within a month. Russian equities are set to follow from July 1, 2014.
A bond trader in London is still marvelling at the market’s willingness to snap up a Eurobond from Hungary, calling it a country with “a policy mix so unorthodox even Aunty Christine won’t lend to them”. But Hungary’s probable glee at bypassing the IMF and “Aunty Christine” with $3.25 billion in two bonds that were almost four times oversubscribed, is probably short-sighted.