Global Investing

Brazil going Turkey? Not quite

Could Brazil be on the cusp of  adopting a Turkish-style monetary policy,  J.P. Morgan analysts ask.

Many central banks have of late been forced to scale back interest rate cuts (here’s something I wrote on this topic last week) but one, Brazil’s Banco Central, remains resolutely dovish.

After four rate cuts it seems determined to take the official Selic rate into single-digit territory.  Aldo Mendes, a deputy governor at the bank, told investors in London last week that he was confident of meeting the 4.5 percent inflation target this year. Friday’s data showing annual inflation at an 11-month low of 6.22 percent should have given policymakers some more ammunition.

Yet it looks unlikely that inflation can fall this year to 4.5 percent  — on average analysts expect 5.3 percent. That’s better than last year’s 6.5 percent but government plans for a spending binge to boost growth are bad news for the central bank’s target. Inflation expectations are steadily trending higher — analysts surveyed by the central bank predicted 2014 inflation above 4.5 percent for the first time last November and now this is close to 5 percent, JPM analysts note. The risk for the central bank is it will lose credibility if it insists on keeping policy loose in the face of rising inflation expectations. There is no “free lunch”, JPM says:

Lower rates could mean credibility costs and in turn higher inflation….It seems the BCB is losing credibility as we see changes in the market’s inflation expectations for the medium term. Taking that and our strong activity forecast from the second quarter onwards we now believe it will take much longer for inflation to converge to the middle of its target range. Therefore we are raising our inflation forecast to 5.5 percent in 2013 from 5 percent previously.

Melancholia, social class and GDP forecasts in Turkey

An interesting take on GDP stats and those who make the predictions. An analysis of economic growth forecasts for several emerging markets over 2006-2010 has led Renaissance Capital economist Mert Yildiz to conclude that analysts of Turkish origin (and he is one) tend to be: 

a) far more pessimistic about their country’s economic growth outlook than the foreigners, and 

b) more pessimistic than economists from Poland, Russia, India or China are about their respective countries.

Can Turkey confound the pessimists again? The numbers say no

Doomsayers have been prophesying Turkey’s economic boom to deflate into bust for many months now. The recent revival in positive investor sentiment worldwide ar has helped silence some voices. Others say it is a matter of time. 

Data on Friday showed annual inflation accelerated from last year’s 3-year highs to 10.6 percent in January. It is likely to remain elevated at least until May, analysts predict. And trade data released this week indicate Turkey will likely have finished last year with a current account gap of around 10 percent of GDP last year — the biggest of any major developing economy. All this appears to indicate that the central bank will have to keep monetary policy tight and might even have to even raise rates, should the current resurgence in risk appetite fade. But rather optimistically, the government is still forecasting 4 percent growth this year. The IMF says 0.4 percent is more likely. A report today by Capital Economics, entitled “Turkish boom hits the buffers”, says recession is a cinch.

Neil Shearing, the report’s author, notes that imports of both consumer and capital goods have fallen by around $1 billion over a 12-month rolling period. That indicates a contraction in private consumption and fixed investment, he writes. Some of this could of course be down to the lira’s weakness last year, that aided some import substitution, Shearing acknowleges. But he says that all signs are that:

Emerging markets facing current account pain

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.

The above chart from Credit Agricole shows that as recently as 2006, the 34 big emerging economies ran a cumulative current account surplus of 5.2 percent of GDP. By end-2011 that had dwindled to 1.7 percent of GDP. More worrying yet is the position of “deficit” economies. The current account gap here has widened to 4 percent of GDP, more than double 2006 levels and the biggest since the 1980s. The difficulties are unlikely to disappear this year, Credit Agricole says,  predicting India, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, Vietnam, Poland and Romania to run current account deficits of over 4 percent this year.

Some fiscally profligate countries such as India may have mainly themselves to blame for their plight. But in general, emerging nations after the Lehman crisis were forced to embark on massive spending to buck up domestic consumption and offset the collapse of Western export markets. For this reason, many were unable to raise interest rates or did so too late. As the woes of the Turkish lira and Indian rupee showed last year, the yawning funding gap leaves many countries horribly exposed to the vagaries of global risk appetite.

Developing vs developed. Ratings convergence goes on

Watchers of ratings agencies might be wondering if a golden period of steady credit upgrades for emerging economies is coming to an end. This week brought a ratings downgrade for Egypt and an outlook cut for Turkey. Hungary is teetering on the brink of having its rating cut to junk. Across the emerging world, countries are struggling with weaker growth, still-high inflation and falling investment. Debt ratios are rising.  All this could bode ill for sovereign credit ratings.

But no fear. The so-called ratings convergence between developed and developing economies has some way to go yet.  Egypt and Turkey may have received bad news this week but there were ratings upgrades for Kazakhstan and Georgia. Emerging countries are still more likely to be upgraded than downgraded. Debt-ridden rich nations on the other hand face ratings cuts, including possibly the mighty United States.  JPMorgan points out that, emerging markets have enjoyed 35 upgrades this year, while developed sovereigns have suffered 32 downgrades and no upgrades.  The bank predicts an additional 22 upgrades for the developing world in 2012.

“The convergence trend appears likely to continue, since a total of nine developed market countries remain on negative outlook or review for a possible downgrade,” according to JPMorgan. Emerging economies have received 133 sovereign upgrades since 2008, the bank notes.  The last developed country upgrade that still stands?  Sweden’s move up to AAA — achieved in 2004.

Turkish central bank reaps what it sows

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.

“Critics though might still argue that it is more a case of ‘as you sow, so you will reap’ and inflation being felt now is a reflection of the inappropriate policy mix earlier in the year,” RBS analyst Tim Ash writes.

Turkey was lucky today though. Shenanigans in Greece held investors attention and a rate cut by the European Central Bank boosted risk appetite, allowing markets to shrug off the Turkish numbers. Bond yields have risen only 5-6 basis points and stocks have rallied.  The central bank meanwhile is expected to stick to its guns and not raise interest rates, relying instead on its liquidity tightening exercise to do the trick.

Interest rates rise in Kenya, Uganda. Hungary next

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.  

Big stable economies such as Australia, Brazil and Indonesia have cut interest rates. On Wednesday, Romania became the latest  country to do so.  But an exception is investment grade Hungary, which may soon join the ranks of  frontier markets in currency-defensive rate hikes.

It may also soon lose its investment grade status –at least one of the three big rating agencies is expected to soon announce a cut to the sovereign credit rating.  That fear has triggered flight from the forint and short-dated bonds, pushing the currency to 2-1/2 year lows and causing significant flattening in the yield curve. The situation hasn’t been helped by signs the government is cooking up another sceme to subsidise indebted small businesses. More is to come, many predict –a ratings downgrade could see investors pull at least $1.2 billion euros from local bond markets. ING Bank estimates. That would be 10 percent of foreigners’ Hungarian bond holdings and would send the currency into a fresh tailspin.

Is end-game approaching for Turkey’s policy experiment?

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.

But what the market really wants to see is an increase in Turkey’s main interest rate.  ”Not sure that ‘measures’ short of rate hikes will help,” RBS analyst Tim Ash writes.

Given Turkey’s massive current account deficit of almost 10 percent of GDP, an interest rate of 5.75 percent will provide little protection to the lira if emerging markets come under serious pressure again. Even if the lira stabilises at current levels, an inflation spike to double-digits looks inevitable.  Meanwhile the central bank’s hard currency reserves are vanishing at an alarming rate — just last week it spent $2.7 billion. That’s a lot given Turkish reserves are just $86 billion, or  four months of imports.  Current central bank policy is  ”an open door to reserve depletion,” Societe Generale strategist Guillaume Salomon says,  noting that despite the massive dollar sales,  the lira is not far off record lows hit earlier this month.

Turkey’s central bank: still a slippery customer

The Turkish central bank has done it again, wrong-footing monetary policy predictions with its latest interest rate moves.

On Thursday, the central bank hiked its overnight lending rate by widening the interest rate corridor. While most analysts correctly predicted the central bank would leave its policy rate unchanged, few foresaw the overnight lending rate hike to 12.5 percent from 9 percent.

As Societe Generale’s emerging markets strategist Gaelle Blanchard put it: ”They managed to find another trick. This one we were not expecting.”

from MacroScope:

The thin line between love and hate

The opinion on Turkey’s unorthodox monetary policy mix is turning as rapidly as global growth forecasts are being revised down.

Earlier this month, its central bank was the object of much finger-wagging after it defied market fears over an overheating economy by cutting its policy rate. It defended the move, arguing that weaker global demand posed a greater risk than inflationary pressures.

Investors were not persuaded. When I told one analyst about the Turkish rate move, he practically sputtered down the phone: "You're not kidding?!"