Masks hang on a rack at Preposterous Presents novelty shop, in London, U.K. (Photographer: Suzanne Plunkett/Bloomberg News)

Local Risks in Emerging Markets Are Giving Traders Something to Worry About

(Bloomberg) -- With the U.S.-China trade dispute dominating headlines this year, idiosyncratic risks in emerging markets have played second fiddle to concerns over global growth.

Not anymore.

South Africa, Nigeria, Thailand and Russia each gave money managers a reminder of how quickly local issues can flare up over the past week. It happened just as some investors were starting to ask if the emerging-market trade was getting overcooked. A Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey of global fund managers showed that not only are developing-nation assets the most popular in the world, the trade has never been so crowded.

With the rand last week’s biggest decliner, investors will be keen to hear details of the South African government’s plan to split 96-year-old Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. when Finance Minister Tito Mboweni presents the nation’s budget. Standard Chartered Plc cautioned the South African currency was most at risk of a large sell-off among high-yielding currencies this year.

Nigerian is counting the cost after the would-be Feb. 16 presidential election was postponed at the 11th hour, with dollar-bond yields rising and stocks falling on Monday. For the record, Indonesia’s central bank, among the more hawkish in emerging markets last year, decides interest rates on Thursday.

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Local Risks in Emerging Markets Are Giving Traders Something to Worry About

The MSCI Inc.’s index of currencies capped a second week of declines Friday, the longest losing stretch since September and a whisper away from closing below its 100-week average for the first time since August. When it fell past that level in 2014, the gauge went a losing run that extended into 2016. The index rebounded on Monday.

Even Inaction Is Action

  • So long as capital inflows are healthy, Indonesia’s policy makers probably won’t feel compelled to raise rates this year, even after the nation’s current-account deficit widened in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to Helmi Arman, an economist in Jakarta at Citigroup Inc. Bank Indonesia boosted the key rate by a total of 175 basis points last year to 6 percent to curb the decline in the rupiah
  • Investors will sift through minutes of the Mexican central bank’s latest meeting as swap rates indicate monetary easing in the coming year. Banxico left its key interest rate unchanged at a decade high this month, saying that while the inflation outlook has remained steady, it faces risks from renewed exchange-rate weakness
    • The peso dropped last week amid concern over the future of Petroleos Mexicanos. The world’s most-indebted oil company will refrain from issuing new debt this year and begin prepaying existing liabilities as part of a broad turnaround plan

Thai Growth

  • Thailand’s economy grew at a faster pace in the fourth quarter than the previous three months, as local demand helped to offset a slide in exports, according to official figures released Monday
    • Gross domestic product rose 3.7 percent from a year ago, up from a previously reported 3.3 percent in the third quarter and compares with the median estimate for a 3.6 percent expansion in a Bloomberg survey. The economy grew 4.1 percent for the whole of 2018

Let’s Talk Politics

  • Brazil’s proposal to overhaul its pension system will be sent to Congress on Feb. 20, including minimum retirement ages and substantial savings to public coffers. Stocks and the real climbed after President Jair Bolsonaro gave a green light to the plan
    • “We expect the first lower house vote to take place in June and final approval in the Senate by 4Q19,” said Alberto Ramos, the chief Latin America economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in New York
  • Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman will meet with China’s President Xi Jinping and attend a high-level joint dialogue during his Feb. 21-22 visit, according to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang
    • READ: Saudi Arabia Explores Investments Ahead of Prince’s Asia Tour
  • Nigerian investors may turn bearish if they think the delay to elections was down to political machinations, according to Robert Omotunde, the head of investment research at Lagos-based Afrinvest West Africa Ltd.
    • Expectations that the vote would go smoothly buoyed Nigerian equities and bonds in recent weeks. The benchmark stock index’s 7.1 percent advance this month through Friday was among the largest in the world, according to data compiled by Bloomberg

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