Emerging-Market Bears Shrug Off Central Bank Opening Salvos

(Bloomberg) -- Investors seem unimpressed by the latest central bank efforts to shore up emerging-market currencies after their rout began about a month ago.

While Indonesia’s rupiah was the best-performer among major emerging currencies on Thursday after the central bank raised rates and pledged “stronger measures,” those gains were wiped out on Friday as it led losses among peers. Brazilian policy makers got a cooler reception, with the real slumping to a two-year low following their surprise decision to end a cycle of interest-rate cuts just a month after signaling another reduction was in the offing.

The nations are at the forefront of a global turn toward tighter monetary policy in developing nations as a surging dollar and the highest 10-year U.S. Treasury yields since 2011 pressure policy makers to find ways to retain foreign capital. The starkest example has been in Argentina, where officials seem to have put a stop to the rout in the peso after hiking rates by 12.75 percentage points in just over a week among other steps to restore credibility.

“The dollar and U.S. yields are key,” said Piotr Matys, a Rabobank strategist in London who was among the most accurate forecasters for four developing-nation currencies in the first quarter. “They’re still setting the tone for emerging markets.”

Emerging-Market Bears Shrug Off Central Bank Opening Salvos

That was evident in Brazil, when a stronger dollar and rising yields overwhelmed the central bank’s unexpected decision on Wednesday to keep interest rates unchanged at 6.5 percent. Even as traders and analysts welcomed the move, the real weakened for a fifth day and fell further on Friday, weakening 1.5 percent to 3.7516 per dollar as of 11:03 a.m. in New York. This extended the drop this year to 10 percent, among the worst in emerging markets.

“The Brazilian central bank’s surprise decision not to cut rates is a hopeful sign of policy makers’ potential willingness to make sacrifices,” Alvise Marino and Shahab Jalinoos, foreign-exchange strategists at Credit Suisse in New York, wrote in a note. Still, “we are not convinced radical action sufficient to change market perceptions” is on the table, they said.

Indonesia’s central bank increased its key rate by a quarter percentage point to 4.5 percent on Thursday and Governor Agus Martowardojo pledged to act “pre-emptively” to restore confidence in financial markets. The rupiah rose for the first time in three days, but resumed losses on Friday, reaching its weakest level since October 2015.

The central bank will need to raise borrowing costs again in two to three months to ease selling pressure, said Jeffrosenberg Tan, the head of investment strategy at Sinarmas Sekuritas, a brokerage and asset-management firm in Jakarta.

“Central banks across emerging markets are now on the offensive,” Stefan Hofer, chief investment strategist at LGT Bank Asia, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “Policy makers are responding to the pressures on their currencies.”

The MSCI Emerging Markets Currency Index is heading for its sixth loss in the past seven weeks, helping fuel concern that weaker currencies will lead to inflation and make debt servicing more expensive for developing nations that have piled on external debt in recent years.

Emerging-Market Bears Shrug Off Central Bank Opening Salvos

Credit Suisse says the answer to steep sell-offs of currencies is to hike rates rather than wait for U.S. bond yields to stabilize. But it sees little evidence of a sense of urgency across emerging markets as a whole.

Some central bankers have said as much, indicating they don’t feel pressure to act just yet.

Mexico kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged at the highest level since 2009 on Thursday, saying that while keeping a slumping currency from affecting prices remains its priority, the slowdown in inflation this year is consistent with reaching its target.

Poland’s Governor Adam Glapinski said an interest-rate hike would be “inappropriate” on Wednesday after his Monetary Policy Council kept its benchmark rate at a record-low 1.5 percent. The zloty fell to the weakest level against the dollar since November.

The currency will probably be hurt by the reluctance to hike rates, according to Marcin Lipka, a senior analyst at the brokerage Cinkciarzpl, who added that the bar seems very high for policy makers to change their mind. He says the zloty may weaken to as low as 3.85 per dollar from 3.64 by the end of the year.

Analysts say Turkey could be the next country to adopt a defensive posture. Foreign investors are shunning lira assets thanks to an inflation rate of 10.9 percent and a widening current-account deficit. The lira’s 15 percent drop this year is putting pressure on the central bank to deliver a rate hike, seen as the best policy to arrest the decline.

“Turkey will hike, for sure,” said Guillaume Tresca, a strategist at Credit Agricole in Paris. “The question is how much. I’m not sure it will be enough to stabilize the lira.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.