As credit default swaps (CDS) for many euro zone sovereigns have zoomed to ever new record highs this year, Chinese CDS too have been quietly creeping higher. Five-year CDS are around 135 bps today, meaning it costs $135,000 a year to insure exposure to $10 million of Chinese risk over a five-year period. According to this graphic from data provider Markit, they are up almost 45 basis points in the past six weeks. In fact they are double the levels seen a year ago.
The Indian rupee’s plunge this week to record lows will have surprised no one. After all, the currency has been inching towards this for weeks, propelled by the government’s paralysis on vital reforms and tax wrangles with big foreign investors. These are leading to a drying up of FDI and accelerating the exodus from stock markets. Industrial production and exports have been falling. High oil prices have added a nasty twist to that cocktail. If the euro zone noise gets louder, a balance of payments crisis may loom. The rupee could fall further to 56 per dollar, most analysts predict.
Who would have thought it. As fears over the euro zone’s fate, Chinese economic growth and Middle Eastern politics drive investors toward safe-haven U.S. and German bonds, some have apparently been going the other way. According to JPMorgan, bonds from so-called frontier economies such as Pakistan, Belarus and Jordan (usually considered high-risk assets) have performed exceptionally well, doing far better in fact than their peers from mainstream emerging markets. The following graphic from JPM which runs the NEXGEM sub-index of frontier debt, shows that returns on many of these bonds are running well into the double digits.
After a ghastly 2011, Indian stock markets have’t done too badly this year despite the almost constant stream of bad news from India. They are up 12 percent, slightly outperforming other emerging markets, thanks to fairly cheap valuations (by India’s normally expensive standards) and hopes the central bank might cut rates. But foreign inflows, running at $3 billion a month in the first quarter, have tapered off and the underlying mood is pessimistic. Above all, the worry is how much will India’s once turbo-charged economy slow? With the government seemingly in policy stupor, growth is likely to fall under 7 percent this year. News today added to the gloom — exports fell in March for the first time since the 2009 global crisis.
Over the past year emerging markets have broadly lagged an upswing in global equity markets, yielding cumulative returns of 4.5 percent since last August. That’s less than half the return developed markets have provided (see graphic below).
It’s been a while since Chinese stocks earned investors fat profits. Last year the Shanghai market lost 22 percent and the compounded return on equity investments there since 1993 is minus 3 percent. This year too China has underwhelmed, rising less than 3 percent so far. Broader emerging equities on the other hand have just concluded their best first quarter since 1992, with gains of over 13 percent.
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.
It’s the economy, stupid. Or isn’t it?
Brent crude has risen 15 percent since the end of last year, focusing people’s minds on the potential this has to choke off the recovery in world growth. But some reckon it is the recovery that’s at least partly responsible for the surging oil prices — economic data from United States and Germany has been strong of late. There are hopes that France and the United Kingdom may escape recession after all. And growth in the developing world has been robust.