Just a month and half into 2012, emerging local currency bonds have already returned 9 percent, one of best performing asset classes. But the rally has further to go, says J.P. Morgan which runs the most widely used emerging debt indices. The bank is now predicting its benchmark local currency debt index, the GBI-EM, to end the year with returns of 16 percent, upping its original expectation for 11.9 percent.
Indian equities are among the best emerging markets performers this year, with the Mumbai market having posted its best January rise since 1994. That’s quite a reversal from last year’s 24 percent slump. The bet is faltering economic growth will force the central bank to cut interest rates from a crippling 8.5 percent. So, how safe is the rally?
Emerging markets may yet pay dearly for the sins of their richer cousins. While recent financial crises have been rooted in the United States and euro zone, analysts at Credit Agricole are questioning whether a full-fledged emerging markets crisis could be on the horizon, the first since the series of crashes from Argentina to Turkey over a decade ago. The concern stems from the worsening balance of payments picture across the developing world and the need to plug big funding shortfalls.
China moved to ease policy this week via a reserve ratio cut for banks, effectively starting to reverse a tightening cycle that’s been in place since last January. Later the same day, Brazil’s central bank cut interest rates by 50 basis points for the third time in a row. Both countries are expected to continue easing policy as the global economic downturn bites. And last week Russia signalled that rate cuts could be on the way.
Turkey’s inflation spike is here. And it is looking worse than expected.
Data today shows October inflation jumping 3.27 percent, well above forecast and the highest in nine years. Compare that to 1.8 percent at this time last year. Annual inflation is now running at 7.7 percent and makes the central bank’s end-year forecast of 8.3 percent look optimistic –most analysts reckon it will be closer to 10 percent. Inflation has in fact been rising steadily in recent months — a consequence of the runaway credit boom of the past year and a policy experiment which saw the central bank cutting interest rates in the face of an overheating economy and raising banks’ reserve ratios instead. Add in the pass-through from the lira’s big depreciation since August and a jump in inflation is hardly surprising. The central bank has of late expressed some concern about inflation and used this to justify its actions to prop up the lira.
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.
In less than two months, Turkey will mark the first anniversary of the start of an unusual monetary policy experiment, and it may well do so by calling it off. The experiment hinged on cutting interest rates while raising banks’ reserve ratio requirements, and as recently as August, the central bank was hoping it would be able to slow a local credit boom a bit but still protect exports by keeping the currency cheap. Instead, an investor exodus from emerging markets has put the lira to the sword, fuelling at one point a 20 percent collapse in its value against the dollar. That has forced the central bank to roll back some of the reserve ratio hikes and last week it jacked up overnight lending rates in an attempt to boost the currency. It has also sold vast quantities of dollars and is promising to unveil more measures on Wednesday.