Asian investors braced for another challenging day on Wednesday as turmoil in emerging markets deepened, with Indonesia’s rupiah in focus after it tumbled to the weakest against the dollar since the Asian financial crisis. The rupiah, one of Asia’s more vulnerable currencies thanks to Indonesia’s reliance on overseas financing, is approaching 15,000 per dollar, while India’s rupee – another exchange rate beset by current-account deficit worries – is fixed for a record-low open. A negative tone was set by news Tuesday that South Africa’s economy had slumped into recession, coming a day after Turkey reported a surge in inflation.
“There seems to be no sign of halting the downtrend” for emerging-market assets, said Koji Fukaya, chief executive officer at FPG Securities Co. in Tokyo. “Investors have become more selective, and countries with negative news such as weak economic growth, weak external balances and high inflation face stronger sell-offs.”
MSCI Inc.’s index of developing-nation currencies dropped for a sixth time in seven days, set for the lowest close in more than a year. The rupiah has tumbled more than seven percent in the past three months, the most among major Asian currencies, even as Bank Indonesia intervened in financial markets in a quest for stability.
Stocks have also suffered, with the MSCI Emerging Markets Index registering a sixth straight drop on Wednesday after South Africa reported a contraction in its economy last quarter. Worries remain that Turkey’s central bank may not do enough at its policy meeting next week to shore up confidence. And Argentina’s economic outlook has deteriorated even as its officials negotiate with the IMF for accelerated aid.
Behind the strains on developing nations has been a strengthening dollar, propelled by the Federal Reserve’s withdrawal of liquidity, which has raised funding costs globally. That narrative isn’t likely to change soon, with US tax cuts set to stoke American growth for some time yet; a gauge of American manufacturing jumped to a 14-year high on Tuesday. That’s left the greenback hovering near its highest level in over a year.
As US rates rise, investor fears over idiosyncratic risks in emerging markets have climbed, from Argentina’s fiscal woes and Turkey’s twin deficits to Brazil’s contentious elections and a land-reform bill in South Africa. President Donald Trump’s threats to ramp up a trade dispute with China with an announcement of tariffs on as much as $200 billion in additional Chinese products as soon as Thursday also hasn’t helped.
Fixed income has also been hit, with the Bloomberg Barclays emerging-market index for dollar bonds down almost 4 percent so far this year. That leaves it heading for its first negative annual performance since 2013, the year of the taper tantrum.
One silver lining for now is that China, has taken steps to shore up its own currency, including through the re-introduction of a counter-cyclical factor in the yuan’s daily fixing. Policy makers in the biggest emerging market have also taken steps to sustain rapid growth, helping hold up global demand more broadly.
Here’s some further commentary from analysts on the outlook for emerging markets:
Anastasia Amoroso, a global investment strategist at JPMorgan Private Bank in New York:
Emerging markets are the best asset class for the long-term due to growth potential, but the time hasn’t come yet to start buying. As long as trade wars continue and the Fed hikes at a runaway pace versus the rest of the world, dollar strength will persist.
James Lord, an emerging-market strategist at Morgan Stanley in London:
Morgan Stanley stays short on the currencies of Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Russia, Indonesia, India and Philippines against the dollar, euro and yen. September is unlikely to provide much relief to emerging markets, Lord and his colleagues at the bank wrote in a note. Trade tensions may remain a theme, and worries about Brazil’s election campaign will probably intensify. Investors may also focus on the outflows of so-called real money, sanctions on Russia and South African land reform over coming months.
Kay Van-Petersen, global macro strategist at Saxo Capital Markets:
“It has to get a lot worse before it gets better” he said on Bloomberg Television. “When you get full contagion, everything gets thrown out, and we’re not there yet.” The key catalyst could be Turkey, he said. The market has underpriced expectations for the Fed, and with Trump waging trade wars on multiple fronts, the tariffs end up hurting emerging markets more than they hurt the US.