Nothing like an oil price spike to bring out the differences between the haves and have-nots of this world. The ones who have oil and those who don’t.
“Will no one rid me of this turbulent central banker?” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban may not have voiced this sentiment but since he took power last year he is likely to have thought it more than once. Increasingly, the spat between Orban’s government and central bank governor Andras Simor brings to memory the quarrel England’s Henry II had with his Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, over the rights and privileges of the Church almost 900 years ago. Simor stands accused of undermining economic growth by holding interest rates too high and resisting government demands for monetary stimulus. The government’s efforts to sideline Simor are viewed as infringing on the central bank’s independence.
Recent weeks have witnessed an interesting split between countries that are raising interest rates to fend off runs on their currencies, and those cutting rates to spur on growth — check out my colleague Carolyn Cohn’s recent piece on this topic (http://tinyurl.com/4x58ny6) .The frontier economies of Africa fall into the first category — Kenya this week jacked up rates by an unprecedented 550 basis points to ward off a currency collapse, while Uganda’s benchmark rate was increased by 300 bps.
A fresh twist in Hungary's Swiss franc debt saga. The ruling party, Fidesz, is proposing to offer mortgage holders the opportunity to repay their franc-denominated loans in one fell swoop at an exchange rate to be fixed well below the market rate. This is a deviation from the existing plan, agreed in June, which allows households to repay mortgage installments at a fixed rate of 180 forints per Swiss franc (well below the current 230 rate). Households would repay the difference, with interest, after 2015.
Could the dreaded R word come back to haunt the developing world? A study by Goldman Sachs shows how differently financial markets and surveys are assessing the possibility of a recession in emerging markets.
One part of the Goldman study comprising survey-based leading indicators saw the probability of recession as very low across central and eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa. These give a picture of where each economy currently stands in the cycle. This model found risks to be highest in Turkey and South Africa, with a 38-40 percent possibility of recession in these countries.
On the other hand, financial markets, which have sold off sharply over the past month, signalled a more pessimistic outcome. Goldman says these indicators forecast a 67 percent probability of recession in the Czech Republic and 58 percent in Israel, followed by Poland and Turkey. Unlike the survey, financial data were more positive on South Africa than the others, seeing a relatively low 32 percent recession risk.
Goldman analysts say the recession probabilities signalled by the survey-based indicator jell with its own forecasts of a soft patch followed by a broad sustained recovery for CEEMEA economies.
"The slowdown signalled by the financial indicators appears to go beyond the ‘soft patch’ that we are currently forecasting," Goldman says, adding: "The key question now is whether or not the market has gone too far in pricing in a more serious economic downturn."
The debt crises in the euro zone and United States are claiming some innocent bystanders. Investors fleeing for the safety of the Swiss franc have ratcheted up pressure on Hungary, where thousands of households have watched with horror as the franc surges to successive record highs against their own forint currency. In the boom years before 2008, mortgages and car loans in Swiss francs seemed like a good idea –after all the forint was strong and Swiss interest rates, unlike those in Hungary, were low. But the forint then was worth 155-160 per franc. Now it is at a record low 260 — and falling — making it increasingly painful to keep up repayments. Swiss franc debt exposure amounts to almost a fifth of Hungary’s GDP. And that is before counting loans taken out by companies and municipalities.
Politics have turned nastier than usual this year in emerging markets. Nonetheless, if you were a buyer of emerging bonds, you would have been ill-advised to play safe. That’s because the best performing emerging credit so far this year is Ivory Coast, which at the end of January effectively defaulted on its $2.3 billion dollar bond. Yes really, according to JP Morgan, which runs the most widely-used emerging debt indexes.