Emerging markets ride 2014 FX rollercoaster

By:
Solomon Teague
Published on:

EM currencies have taken a savage beating this year, tumbling to a decade low, thanks to falling oil prices, weaker growth, a stronger dollar and fears over reform inertia. Euromoney surveys the FX landscape for 2015.

EMs during the past year have wrestled with manifold macroeconomic challenges – weak exports, falling productivity gains, diminishing savings rates and rising corporate leverage. 

However, for unhedged investors, the most pernicious drag on returns has been the strengthening of the US dollar, which has risen by around 12% against a basket of 15 EMs in spot terms year-to-date. 

In recent days, EM FX fell to a decade low, according to a Bloomberg basket of 20 developing-country currencies, driven by lower oil prices, a slowing China and a fears over Japan’s reflation bid. 

 EM-savings-and-investment-rates-%-of-GDP

While monetary stimulus from the US and Japan should have boosted risk assets such as equities, triggering a 15% rise in the S&P, EM currencies, as in the past, have been shaken by the greenback’s, albeit anticipated, rise. 

The Mexican peso has fallen by around 9% and the Brazilian real by around 8% against the dollar, yet these are among the EM success stories for the year, particularly for LatAm.

The rouble and the rupee represent EMs' contrasting fortunes of the past year. Of the widely traded currencies, the rouble, which declined around 40% this year, has been an outlier among a bunch of generally poor performers.

Adam Myers, European head of FX strategy at Crédit Agricole CIB, says: "Without doubt, Russia and the rouble have been the big negative surprise story of 2014. The ongoing impact of economic sanctions upon growth and employment should not be underestimated in 2015. 

"If persisting, their prolonged implementation risk Russia being re-classed as a frontier market in time."

Luis Costa, head of CEEMEA strategy at Citi, adds: "The price right now looks about right for the rouble."

The rouble is adjusting to the removal of what was probably the strongest framework for currency intervention any EM has ever seen – a dollar peg, backed by a war-chest of reserves – which held it steady for years. 

Rouble volatility

The shift to an inflation-targeting free-floating monetary regime is likely to mean persistent rouble volatility for some time, with the benefits seen as materializing in the medium-term.

With the Central Bank of Russia committed to its new policy of reduced currency interventions, 2015 does not look much better. 

"Unless China comes to Russia's rescue, for example with a deal to buy its gas, it is hard to see Russia doing well in 2015," says Crédit Agricole's Myers.

At the other end of the spectrum is India, which delighted investors as much as the rouble dismayed them. In the build up to India's general election in May, there was concern about the direction the economy was heading in, its ability to rebuild its manufacturing sector and whether the winner would have the appetite and mandate to push through the necessary reforms.

The result of the election has given India a new lease of life. The BJP government is "the first single party in over 30 years, and probably the first centre-right government ever," says Vijay Krishna-Kumar, director at Mumbai-based Gulmohar Alpha Capital Advisors. "Both these changes are a tremendous positive for Indian equities longer term."

Manik Narain, EM strategist at UBS, says: "At the current price of oil, India will practically eliminate its current-account deficit, for the first time in a decade, which should mitigate pressure on the rupee. 

"We expect to see growth pick up in 2015-16 and FDI inflows should accelerate. Reforms such as liberalizing labour laws, implementing a national goods and services tax, and reducing regulatory hurdles for businesses are making progress."

This does not mean the rupee is set to appreciate against the dollar, but it does mean, with a 6% yield, rupee investors can earn a total return from carry. UBS also advocates a relative value trade of long rupee against the rand.

"Famed Chicago monetarist Raghuram Rajan took over governorship of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) at the depth of the rupee crisis – following the taper tantrum – last year and has brought about an unseen Volcker-like credibility to the RBI's inflation fighting credentials," says Gulmohar's Krishna-Kumar.

Further reading

Emerging markets:
special focus

Narain at UBS says: "In the seven months since the election, the Reserve Bank of India has already made significant progress in containing inflation expectations and moving towards an inflation-targeting regime. For me, this is the biggest positive of the year across EMs."

In general, Asia has been an outperformer with the Indian rupee, the Philippine peso, the Indonesian rupiah and the Thai baht holding up well against the dollar, demonstrating the superiority of Asian growth compared to LatAm and Europe.

"China might be slowing down, but it is still growing faster than Europe or the US and that has benefited Asia – as has Japan's fiscal stimulus," says Myers.

Analyzing how Asia will react to various possible dollar scenarios for 2015 is difficult. The hope is that the dollar’s rise, driven by US expansion, will boost Asian EM exports. However, Myers believes 2015 could see the fortunes of LatAm and Asia reverse.