Sick Turkey Contagion Won't Cause an Asian Crisis
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- All it took was new sanctions and a defiant speech.
The Turkish lira’s 24 percent slump since last Friday is prompting fears of another emerging markets crisis, with developing countries seeing a “sudden stop” in foreign capital inflows once again. On Monday morning, emerging Asia stocks slipped 0.8 percent, while currencies weakened. Indonesia’s Jakarta Composite Index suffered its biggest intraday fall since 2016.
Asia has been here before, mired in a broad-based financial crisis two decades ago. In 1997, the Indonesian rupiah crashed while the nation’s debt-to-GDP ratio soared to 170 percent.
But make no mistake. Foreigners have not panicked – and if anything, next to the debacle developing in Turkey, emerging Asia looks as sweet as pumpkin pie.
A look at Turkey’s foreign capital flow data (released every Thursday) shows that until last week there was little panic, and that foreigners were not the driver behind the lira’s sustained weakness. The currency was down 31 percent for the year even before Friday’s sell-off.
The lack of action may be because foreigners have long lost their appetite for Turkish assets, despite higher interest rates on offer, according to HSBC Holdings Plc. Like many emerging markets, Turkey saw significant outflows during the 2013 taper tantrum. But since then, foreigners have not returned; Indonesia, by comparison, just kept growing.
Meanwhile, the volatility of weekly portfolio flows has also declined significantly since 2013. For years, Turkey has been a big yawn for volatility-loving traders. Five years ago, Turkey was the largest constituent in the JP Morgan USD Emerging Markets Index, with 6.6 percent weight; now, it ranks number 6 with only 3.9 percent weight, behind Indonesia and the Philippines.
It’s understandable that global investors see more appeal in Asia. While Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to rail against higher interest rates, emerging Asian markets with current account deficits – such as Indonesia and the Philippines – are preemptively hiking rates, preparing themselves for further actions from the Federal Reserve.
As I argued last week, central banks around the world all prefer to act only on national concerns. But if the U.S. is on a tightening cycle, emerging markets have to follow, however begrudgingly. Indonesia and the Philippines already increased their benchmark rates by a full percentage point this year, and Morgan Stanley is penciling in another 50 basis point hike at the Philippine central bank’s September meeting.
Next to Turkey, both countries have been well-rewarded for their probity. Over the last month of emerging-markets turmoil, in dollar terms, the Jakarta Composite fell only 1 percent, while the Philippines Stock Exchange Index rose 3.4 percent.
“Interest rates are tools of exploitation that make the rich richer and the poor poorer,” said Erdogan. That may be. But when a country’s currency tanks, the entire nation falls from global investors’ radar. Asian economies may be following the path of tough love, but their citizens will thank them in the end.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Shuli Ren is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Asian markets. She previously wrote on markets for Barron's, following a career as an investment banker, and is a CFA charterholder.
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