It was a gloomy, rainy night in Boston last week where emerging market analysts and portfolio managers huddled together before an audience of 75+ people to discuss an equally gloomy situation in Venezuela, specifically whether or not the nation, with the biggest proven oil reserves in the world, is on the precipice of defaulting on its debt.
Many emerging economies have been banking on weaker currencies to revitalise economic growth. Oil’s 25 percent fall in dollar terms this year should also help. The problem however is the dollar’s strength which is leading to a general tightening of monetary conditions worldwide, more so in countries where central banks are intervening to prevent their currencies from falling too much.
It’s a brave investor who will venture into emerging markets these days, let alone start a new fund. Data from Thomson Reuters company Lipper shows declining appetite for new emerging market funds – while almost 200 emerging debt and equity funds were launched in Europe back in 2011, the tally so far this year is just 10.
Four years into the stock market party fueled by a punch bowl overflowing with trillions of dollars of central bank liquidity, you’d think a hangover might be looming.
Emerging stocks, in the doghouse for months and months, haven’t done too badly of late. The main EM index, has rallied more than 11 percent since its end-August troughs, outgunning the S&P 500’s 3 percent rise in this period. Bank of America/Merrill Lynch strategist Michael Hartnett reminds us of the extreme underweight positioning in emerging stocks last month, as revealed by his bank’s monthly investor survey. Anyone putting on a long EM-short UK equities trade back then would have been in the money with returns of 540 basis points, he says.
The Fed’s unexpectedly dovish position last week has sparked a rally in emerging markets — not only did the U.S. central bank’s all-powerful boss Ben Bernanke keep his $85 billion-a-month money printing programme in place, he also mentioned emerging markets in his post-meeting news conference, noting the potential impact of Fed policy on the developing world. All that, along with the likelihood of the dovish Janet Yellen succeeding Bernanke was described by Commerzbank analysts as “a triple whammy for EM.” A positive triple whammy, presumably.
Emerging stocks are not much in favour these days — Bank of America/Merrill Lynch’s survey of global fund managers finds that in August just a net 18 percent of investors were overweight emerging markets, among the lowest since 2001. Within the sector though, there are some outright winners and quite a few losers. Russian stocks are back in favour, the survey found, with a whopping 92 percent of fund managers overweight. Allocations to Russia doubled from last month (possibly at the expense of South African where underweight positions are now at 100 percent, making it the most unloved market of all) See below for graphic:
What will save the Indian rupee? There’s an election next year so forget about the stuff that’s really needed — structural reforms to labour and tax laws, easing business regulations and scrapping inefficient subsidies. The quickest and most effective short-term option may be a dollar bond issued to the Indian diaspora overseas which could boost central bank coffers about $20 billion.
In the selloff gripping emerging markets, one currency is conspicuous by its absence — the Turkish lira. But this will change unless the central bank adds significantly to its successful lira-defensive measures.