Global Investing

Paid for the risk? Egypt’s tempting pound

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 ?

Analysts at Societe Generale say that just looking at the spot exchange rate of the pound is missing the bigger picture. Instead, they advise buying 12-month non-deliverable forwards on the pound — essentially a way of locking into a fixed rate for pound against the dollar in a year’s time depending on where you think it may actually trade. They write:

The implicit yield at this point is 21 percent for the 12m NDF, which we think is quite attractive. The way to think about Egypt NDFs is to approach them as a distressed asset. The risk/reward is quite attractive, and a lot of the bad news has been priced in. Yes, there have been serious delays in the programme negotiations with the IMF and that has clearly been a negative for the overall country view, but I would like to point out that the actual 12m NDF level has hardly budged in the process. This to me suggests that the valuation looks particularly good.

 

One year  forwards are typically calculated by assuming the currency will depreciate over 12 months by an amount equivalent to the currency’s deposit rate over that period. However, the non-deliverable forward on dollar/pound, a cash-settled FX forward calculated from open market pricing, implied a pound exchange rate at 8.5 pounds per dollar in a year’s time – more than 20 percent weaker than today’s spot price of 6.9 per dollar. This means that there is more than 10 percent pure currency depreciation (i.e. outside of the deposit rate) priced on the NDF. Given that this is well in excess of what many assume will be the actual pound decline, the trade starts to look attractive despite all the economic and political pessimism. In other words, the NDF rate is assumed to have priced in excessive gloom.

 

Graham Stock, an investment strategist at frontier fund Insparo, also likes the pound. He says a maxi devaluation does not appear on the cards as wealthier neighbours such as Qatar, Libya and Turkey have stepped up with multi-billion dollar loans. The currency collapse that looked imminent at the end of 2012 hasn’t happened as the central bank has managed to stabilise the pound by rationing dollars. Moreover analysts now reckon that Egypt will muddle through without IMF aid this year – instead it may tap the IMF after elections (due later this year) when measures such as scrapping subsidies can be more easily implemented. Meanwhile (Stock says):

Is the rouble overhyped?

For many months now the Russian rouble has been everyone’s favourite currency. Thanks to all the interest it rose 4 percent against the dollar during the July-September quarter. How long can the love affair last?

It is easy to see why the rouble is in favour. The central bank last month raised interest rates to tame inflation and might do so again on Friday. The  implied yield on 12-month rouble/dollar forwards  is at 6 percent — among the highest in emerging markets.  It has also been boosted by cash flowing into Russian local bond market, which is due to be liberalised in coming months. Above all, there is the oil price which usually gets a strong boost from Fed QE.  So despite worries about world growth, Brent crude prices are above $110 a barrel. Analysts at Barclays are among those who like the rouble, predicting it to hit 30.5 per dollar by end-2012, up from current levels of 31.12.

All that sounds pretty bullish. But there are reasons why the rouble’s days of strength may be numbered. First the QE effect is unlikely to last. As we argued here, QE’s impact will be less strong than after the previous two rounds. Analysts at ING Bank point out that in 3-6 months after the launch of QE2 oil prices gained 40 percent, pushing the rouble up nearly 10%. This time oil won’t repeat the trend this time, and neither will the rouble, they say: