Could Asia be headed for a debt crisis?
The very thought may seem ludicrous given the region’s mighty current account surpluses and brimming central bank coffers. But a note from RBS analysts Drew Brick and Rob Ryan raises some interesting concerns.
Emerging market currencies have been a source of frustration for investors this year. With central banks overwhelmingly in rate-cutting mode and export growth slowing, most currencies have performed poorly. That has been a bit of a dampener for local currency debt – while returns in dollar terms have been robust at 13 percent, currency appreciation has contributed just 1.5 percent of that, according to JP Morgan.
Israel’s financial markets had a torrid time on Monday as swirling rumours of an imminent air strike on Iran caused investors to flee. The shekel lost 1.4 percent, the Tel Aviv stock exchange fell 1.5 percent and credit default swaps, reflecting the cost of insuring exposure to a credit, surged almost 10 percent.
Japanese mom-and-pop investors’ penchant for seeking high-yield investments overseas is well known. Mrs Watanabe (as the canny player of currency and exchange rate arbitrage has come to be known) invests billions of yen overseas every year via so-called uridashi bonds, debt denominated in currencies with high yields. Data shows the lira has suddenly become the red-hot favourite with uridashi investors this year.
Emerging market investors may have got used to policy surprises from Turkey’s central bank but they don’t expect them from South Korea. Such are the times, however, that the normally staid Bank of Korea shocked investors this morning with an interest rate cut, the first in three years. Most analysts had expected it to stay on hold. But with the global economic outlook showing no sign of lightening, the BoK probably felt the need to try and stimulate sluggish domestic demand. (To read coverage of today’s rate cut see here).
These are not the best of times for emerging markets but some investors don’t seem too perturbed. According to Societe Generale, almost half the clients it surveys in its monthly snap poll of investors have turned bullish on emerging markets’ near-term prospects. That is a big shift from June, when only 33 percent were optimistic on the sector. And less than a third of folk are bearish for the near-term outlook over the next couple of weeks, a drop of 20 percentage points over the past month.
European equities are getting some investor interest again.
As the ongoing debt crisis erodes consumer spending and corporate profits, the euro zone’s share in investors’ equity portfolios has fallen in the past year –Reuters polls show holdings of euro zone stocks at 25 percent versus over 36 percent a year back. Cash has fled instead to U.S. stocks, opening up a record valuation gap between the European and U.S. shares. (see graphics below from my colleague Scott Barber). In fact no other region has ever been considered as cheap as the euro zone is now, a monthly survey by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch found in June.