Global Investing

Emerging local debt: hedges needed

The fierce sell-off that hit emerging market local currency debt last month was possibly down to low levels of currency hedging by investors, JPMorgan says.

Analysts at the bank compare the rout with the one May 2012, caused by exactly the same reason — higher U.S. yields. There was a difference though — back then EM currencies dropped more than 8% on the month but EM local bonds, unlike last month, were little changed.

Gauging hedging levels is usually a tricky business. But JPM uses the results of its monthly client surveys to analyse the differing moves:

Flows to EM local markets were muted throughout 2012 and investors regularly employed high FX hedge ratios of EM bond portfolios, but investors shifted stance in 2013…..EM FX hedge ratios were low entering the sell-off, having fallen below 10% relative to 25% in May of 2012.

 

The lower level of hedging gels with investors’ return expectations going into 2013, the bank said.  Its survey back in November 2012 revealed that investors expected total returns from local markets of 7-10% versus 5-7% for EM sovereign and corporate credit. And within local markets, investors were banking on currency appreciation to deliver around half the total returns.

Weekly Radar: Q3 earnings; China GDP; EU summit; US debate

Markets have turned glum again as October gets underway and the northern winter looms, weighed down by a relentless grind of negative commentary even if there’s been little really new information to digest. The net loss on MSCI’s world stock market index over the past seven days is a fairly restrained 1.5%, though we are now back down to early September levels. Debt markets have been better behaved. The likes of Spain’s 10-year yields are virtually unchanged over the past week amid all the rolling huff and puff from euroland. The official argument that Spain doesn’t need a bailout at these yield levels is backed up by analysis that shows even at the peak of the latest crisis in July average Spanish sovereign borrowing costs were still lower than pre-crisis days of 2006.  But with ratings downgrades still in the mix, it looks like a bit of a cat-and-mouse game for some time yet. Ten-year US Treasury yields, meantime, have nudged back higher again after the strong September US employment report and are hardly a sign of suddenly cratering world growth. What’s more, oil’s back up above $115 per barrel, with the broader CRB commodities index actually up over the past week. This contains no good news for the world, but if there are genuinely new worries about aggregate world demand, then not everyone in the commodity world has been let in on the ‘secret’ yet.

So why are we all shivering in our boots again? Perennial euro fears aside for a sec, the latest narratives go four ways at the moment. 1) The IMF’s World Economic Outlook (WEO) downgraded world growth and its Financial Stability report issued stern warnings on the extent of European bank deleveraging 2) a pretty lousy earnings season is just kicking off stateside, 3)  U.S. presidential election polls are neck and neck again and unnerving some people fearful of a clean sweep by Republicans and possible threats to the Federal Reserve’s independence and its hyper-active monetary policy 4) it’s a new quarter after a punchy Q3 and there’s not much new juice left to add to fairly hefty year-to-date gains. Maybe it’s a bit of all of the above.

But like so much of the year, whether the up moments or the downers, there’s pretty good reason to be wary of prevailing narratives.

Stressed out?

Trying to second guess reaction to news during this financial crisis has been a fraught exercise and the U.S. Treasury may have a few advisers playing game theory to assess the impact of results from bank stress tests.

The tests are an attempt to determine which banks can survive more trouble, and who can’t. And how big any balance sheet holes might be. The results are due out on May 4.

If the results look too good, the process will look like a whitewash. Too negative, and it will destabilise still-jumpy markets. Yet showing up problems at one or a few banks could hang them out to dry.

Investing with Dante

You know things are bad on financial markets when an investment research note starts talking about Dante‘s visit to the nine circles of Hell with tormented lustful souls and gluttons living in filthy slush.

In the case of State Street Global Markets’ latest report, however, there is a more direct link than simple hyperbole about the way investors are feeling. The firm recently had a chat with former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers who defined what he saw as the five viciousrtx8t2k.jpg circles of the current financial crisis.

It goes like this:

Circle One: House prices fall in value, putting some people into negative equity and leading some to default on mortgages. Foreclosures further erode asset values.