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Rates mantle passes to SA as central banks fight EM bears

Sep 17 2018 12:20
Netty Ismail, Justin Villamil and Lilian Karunungan, Bloomberg

Investors are counting on central bank decisions in some of the hardest-hit emerging markets this week for an extended reprieve from the recent rout.

After Turkey and Russia surprised traders last week with more hawkish-than-anticipated policy moves, there’s an outside chance the South African Reserve Bank may follow in their footsteps by raising interest rates on Thursday after the rand slumped to a two-year low. Brazil’s policy makers decide rates Wednesday following a month in which the real was the worst-performing developing-nation currency after Argentina’s peso.

“The pressure to hike will be particularly strong for Brazil and South Africa, both of which have seen their currencies plunge this year,” said Per Hammarlund, chief emerging-market strategist at SEB AB in Stockholm. However, with inflation moderating in Brazil in August while accelerating in South Africa in July, the Brazilian central bank will probably stay on hold at 6.50% while South Africa is likely to hike by 25 basis points to 6.75%, he said.

Emerging markets got a lift last week as Turkey’s central bank delivered a larger-than-anticipated 625 basis-point interest rate hike while Russia’s tightened for the first time since 2014. Still, options traders remained the most bearish on the Turkish lira in emerging markets in the coming month after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan restated his opinion that higher rates won’t help to slow inflation and warned that his restraint won’t last forever.

Goldman Sachs Group said it would rather use the lira’s stability to “re-engage” in other high-yielding currencies that suffered from the Turkey contagion, such as the rand, real, Mexican peso and ruble. There will be other challenges ahead for Turkey with the economy slowing rapidly, strategists including New York-based Zach Pandl wrote in a report.

The U.S.-China trade conflict will also keep rumbling on. There will be “no real progress” in trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing before the U.S. mid-term elections, said SEB’s Hammarlund. Beijing is considering declining the offer of talks led by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the Wall Street Journal reported. President Donald Trump has decided to proceed with tariffs on about $200 billion more of Chinese products despite Mnuchin’s attempt to restart talks with Beijing to resolve the trade war, according to people familiar with the matter.


South Africa May Surprise

All except one of the economists surveyed by Bloomberg expect South Africa’s central bank to keep the interest rate unchanged at 6.50 percent after the economy slipped into a recession. But there is the off-chance that the central bank may hike by 25 basis points at the meeting in light of recent rand weakness, according to Investec Bank. “An interest-rate hike by the SARB would not go against the trend, while the U.S. interest-rate cycle still has further to climb and risk-aversion levels have not subsided to the point of persistent risk-on yet,” said Investec chief economist, Annabel Bishop The rand was the worst-performing developing-nation currency in the past month after the Argentine peso and Brazilian real. 

Brazil’s Central Bank, Bolsonaro Watch

Brazil’s central bank is expected to hold the key rate at a record-low 6.5%. The decision will be the last meeting before the presidential election in October, and follows surprise August deflation. On Monday and Tuesday, two new polls will show the state of Brazil’s presidential race. The contest was upended after leading candidate Jair Bolsonaro was stabbed while campaigning on September 6. Brazilian stocks gained 1.8% on the day of the attack as investors bet on a surge in support for the right-wing candidate, before reversing the rally after a Datafolha poll showed him making only incremental gains. The largest advances were made by left-wing candidates. Bolsonaro underwent a second operation last week, making it unclear when he can return to campaigning

Hungary’s Unconventional Policy

Investors in Hungary will watch Tuesday’s rate meeting, when policy makers will publish updated economic forecasts and announce details of their unconventional policy for the next three months. Deputy Governor Marton Nagy is said to hold a call and meetings with investors in the days following the announcement. The National Bank of Hungary will likely keep rates unchanged and maintain its forward guidance on short-end rates, with policy rate hikes unlikely before 2020, according to Bank of America analyst Mai Doan. Monetary policy interest-rate swaps will probably be phased out and there could be some communication tweaks to address forint weakness and inflation risks. But the central bank will likely be careful not to provoke forint appreciation, Doan said. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is scheduled to open the fall session of parliament with a speech in which he may give details on his policy toward the European Union after lawmakers in the bloc proposed sanctions for eroding democratic values.

Argentina Recession

Argentina will release second-quarter gross domestic product data on Wednesday that are almost certain to show a steep economic contraction. The economy is besieged on all sides as a drought hammers agricultural production and a currency rout stokes inflation and undermines investment and consumer spending. The Argentine peso was the worst performer last week, falling 7.2% and extending a 53% slump this year. As President Mauricio Macri continues to negotiate fiscal measures after securing an emergency credit line with the International Monetary Fund, GDP figures will provide an early indication of how severe the recession will be

Thai Haven

Policy makers at the Bank of Thailand will be under no pressure to raise interest rates when they meet on Wednesday. Inflation remains benign, Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong said last week. Given the nation’s strong buffers and relatively strong currency, the need for Thailand to increase the rate is not as imminent as other emerging markets, BOT Governor Veerathai Santiprabhob said last month. The baht is emerging Asia’s best-performing currency this year.

India to Help Rupee

India unveiled measures to prop up Asia’s worst-performing currency, including steps to facilitate bond issuance by local companies and possible curbs on imports. Overseas borrowing restrictions on Indian manufacturers will be relaxed and the government may ease the cap that limits foreign ownership of individual company bonds, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Friday. The rupee has lost about 11% this year even as the central bank raised rates to the highest level in two years.

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