I have to admit, I was a little surprised. The invitation to a book signing came from an emerging markets investment firm by one of their investment professionals and on the face of it didn’t really excite me. But I do have a lot of respect for the individuals at the firm and there was a quality to the invitation, one that didn’t say hard sell, that compelled me to go and see.
Since April of last year, a small but growing cadre of lawyers, investors, regulators, and yes, even journalists, have been carrying around dog-eared copies of an International Monetary Fund paper (read: trial balloon) that revisits how the fund, the lender of last resort for many nations, might revamp its approach to sovereign debt restructurings.
Ukraine said today it was issuing a $3 billion in two-year Eurobonds at a yield of 5 percent in what seems to the start of a bailout deal with Russia. That sounds like a good deal for Kiev — its Eurobond maturing next year is trading at at a yield of 8 percent and it could not reasonably expect to tap bond markets for less than that. In addition, Ukraine is also getting a gas price discount from Russia that will provide an annual saving of $2.6 billion or so.
The latest data from Ukraine shows its hard currency reserves fell $2 billion over November to $18.9 billion. That’s perilously low by any measure. (Check out this graphic showing how poorly Ukraine’s reserve adequacy ratios compare with other emerging markets: http://link.reuters.com/quq25v)
Surprising as it may seem, the Egyptian pound has got some fans. The currency has languished for months at record lows against the dollar and the headlines are alarming — the lack of an IMF aid programme, meagre hard currency reserves, political upheaval. So what’s to like ?
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.
This week’s interest rate meetings in the developing world are highlighting that despite slower economic growth, inflation remains a problem for many countries. In some cases it could constrain policymakers from cutting interest rates, or least from cutting as much as they would like.