It’s the scenario that Bank of England economist Andrew Haldane last year termed the Big Fish Small Pond problem — the prospect of rising global investor allocations swamping the relatively small emerging markets asset class.
Western governments saddled with mountainous debts will “repress” creditors and savers via banking regulation, capital controls, central bank bond buying and currency depreciation that effectively puts sovereign borrowers at the top of the credit queue while simultaneously wiping out real returns for their bond holders. So says HSBC chief economist Stephen King in his latest report this week called “From Depression to repression”.
Fear of many years of stagnation in the major western economies has everyone fretting about a repeat of the “lost decades” that Japan suffered after its banking and real estate bubble burst in the early 1990s. Indeed HSBC economists were recently keen to point out that U.S. per capita growth over the noughties was already actually weaker than either of Japan’s lost decades.
Amid all the furious G7 money printing of recent years, Brazil was the first to sound the air raid siren in the “international currency war” back in 2010 and it continues to cry foul over the past week. With its finance ministry issuing fresh warnings last night over hot-money flows being dropped by western economies on its unsuspecting exporters via currency speculation, Brazil’s central bank then set off its own defensive anti aircraft battery with a surprisingly deep interest rate cut late Wednesday. Having tried everything from taxes on hot foreign inflows to currency market intervention, they are braced for a long war and there’s little sign of the flood of cheap money from the United States, Europe and Japan ending anytime soon. So, if you can’t beat them, do you simply join them?
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.
Anemic economic growth in the United States has sparked fears the country was entering a Japan-style “lost decade.” The comparison also has implications for government bond markets. Some traders see the U.S. Treasury market’s new, lower-yielding structure as eerily reminiscent of trading patterns seen in JGBs (Japanese government bonds). Says George Goncalves at Nomura: