Interest rate meetings are coming up this week in Turkey, South Africa and Mexico. Most analysts expect no change to interest rates in any of the three countries. But chances are, the worsening global growth picture will force policymakers to soften their tone from previous months; indeed forwards markets are actually pricing an 18-20 basis-point interest rate cut in South Africa.
It’s turning out to be a great year for emerging debt. Returns on sovereign dollar bonds have topped 10 percent already this year on the benchmark EMBI Global index, compiled by JP Morgan. That’s better than any other fixed income or equity category, whether in emerging or developed markets. Total 2012 returns could be as much as 12 percent, JPM reckons.
Taiwan and Philippines have joined the easing crew. Taiwan cut interbank lending rates for the first time in 33 months on Friday while Philippines lowered the rate it pays banks on short-term special deposits. Hardly surprising. Given South Koreas’s shock rate cut on Thursday, its first in over three years, and China’s two rate cuts in quick succession, the spread of monetary easing across Asia looks inevitable. Markets are now betting the Reserve Bank of India will also cut rates in July.
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.
Emerging equities’ amazing first quarter rally now seems a distant memory. In fact MSCI’s main emerging markets index recently spent 11 straight weeks in the red, the longest lossmaking stretch in the history of the index. The reasons are clear — the euro zone is in danger of breakup, growth is dire in the West and stuttering in the East. Weaker oil and metals prices are hitting commodity exporting countries.
What’s the damage from being a member of the euro? German credit default swaps, used to insure risk, have spiralled to record highs over 130 basis points, three times the level of a year ago amid the escalating brouhaha over Spain’s banks and Greek elections. U.S. CDS meanwhile remain around 45 bps. That means it costs 45,000 to insure $10 million worth of U.S. investments for five years, compared to $135,000 for Germany. (click the graphics to enlarge)
Just how miserable a month May was for global equity markets is summed up by index provider S&P which notes that every one of the 46 markets included in its world index (BMI) fell last month, and of these 35 posted double-digit declines. Overall, the index slumped more than 9 percent.