Politics, Fed could whip up new emerging markets storm

Feb 14 2014, 19:58 IST
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Fed policies provide the spark for the next round of selling. Reuters Fed policies provide the spark for the next round of selling. Reuters
SummaryFed policies provide the spark for the next round of selling.

A stabilisation in emerging markets after January's rout may turn out be the calm before the storm if political flare-ups and Fed policies provide the spark for the next round of selling.

Currencies in Turkey, South Africa, Hungary and Russia, which suffered violent sell-offs over the past month, have recovered slightly, partly because central banks have fought back via interest rates hikes or exchange rate interventions.

Investors also appear more sanguine about the U.S. Federal Reserve's plan to steadily withdraw monetary stimulus, a stance confirmed by its chair Janet Yellen this week. But the next stress points are already emerging.

Some investors are bracing for the "April tipping point", when the Fed's stimulus withdrawal in real terms is expected to start having a more material impact on the economy.

"Another catalyst will be political uncertainty, with many of the deficit countries facing elections in 2014," said Gautam Chadda, director of investment consulting at RBC Wealth Management.

That includes the capital-hungry "Fragile Five" countries, voters in all of which are due to pass judgment on their governments this year.

"Markets don't like uncertainty and there is a lot of political uncertainty out there," said Chadda, who expects pressure on emerging markets to return as the Fed scales back its asset-purchases over the course of the year.

And if turbulence has ebbed in markets such as Turkey and India, it appears to be spreading to other parts of the developing world.

For instance, markets in commodity exporting Nigeria, which is sensitive to China's growth and until recently a top frontier market investment destinations, have tumbled.

The naira has hit two-year lows after President Goodluck Jonathan sacked four cabinet members ahead of next year's general election, and its weakness has been only partly stemmed by central bank intervention.

A weaker currency worsens the inflation outlook for Nigeria which depends on imports for almost 80 percent of goods sold in the country.

The cedi currency of another African commodity exporter Ghana, has also fallen to record lows.

FALLING RESERVES

Nigeria is also an example of an emerging economy that is seeing a steady depletion in its hard currency reserves - its cash pile has fallen 7 percent over the past year.

Reserves fell in 11 out of 17 key emerging economies, including Russia, South Africa and Indonesia, in the year to January, as once-buoyant investment inflows dwindle and trade with a slowing China declines.

That in turn undermines the ability of central banks to support currencies under pressure.

Michael Howell,

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