E.M.s Want Cake & Eat It Too
Since the end of 2010, the emerging markets (E.M.) have gotten absolutely obliterated (MSCI Emerging Markets index –25%) compared to a meteoric rise in U.S. stocks (S&P 500 index +60%) over the same period.
Slowing global growth, especially with resource-hungry China going on a crash diet, has caused commodity-exporting emerging markets like Brazil to suffer economic starvation. Rising inflation, expanding debt, decelerating Chinese growth, collapsing commodity prices, and political corruption allegations are all factors pressuring the Brazilian economy. Weak emerging market economies like Brazil are contributing to global GDP forecast reductions. As you can see from the chart below, global GDP growth rates have been steadily declining since 2010, and the IMF recently lowered their 2015 forecast from +3.5% down to 3.1%.
Beginning in late 2008, when Ben Bernanke first announced his QE 1 (Quantitative Easing) money printing binge, the U.S. dollar remained relatively weak against other global currencies for years. The weak dollar provided a nice tailwind to U.S. exporters (i.e., American manufactured goods were more cost competitive for foreign buyers).
Multinationals loved the export lift, but emerging international politicians and investors cried foul. They complained the U.S. was starting a “currency war” by artificially deflating the value of the U.S. dollar, thereby making international markets less competitive. At the time, the thought process was the emerging markets (e.g., China, Russia, Brazil et.al.) would be disproportionately impacted because their economies are export-driven. In a 2010 article from the Guardian (World Gripped by International Currency War) Brazilian finance minister Guido Mantega explicitly stated, “We’re in the midst of an international currency war, a general weakening of currency. This threatens us because it takes away our competitiveness.”
This “currency war” griping stayed in place until the end of 2013 when the Fed announced its plans to begin “tapering” bond buying (i.e., pull away the financial punch bowl). We all know what has happened since then…the U.S. dollar has spiked by about +20% and the Brazilian real has depreciated by a whopping -37%. This is good news for emerging markets like Brazil, right? Wrong!
A few years ago, emerging market investors were initially worried about the depressing effects of a strong currency on exports, but now that emerging market currencies have depreciated, fears have shifted. Now, investors are concerned whether E.M. countries can pay off foreign borrowed debt denominated in pricey U.S. dollars (paid with vastly weaker E.M. currencies). Moreover, with foreign governments holding dramatically lower valued currency, investors are worried about the ability of these E.M. countries to raise additional capital or refinance existing debt. SocGen’s head of emerging market strategy, Guy Stear, summed it up by noting, “Prevailing risks of a deterioration of the external financing environment and disruptive capital flow and asset price shifts that increase volatility in the respective bond and currency markets, make a rapid rebound in EM growth over the next months unlikely.”
So which one is it…do E.M. investors want a weak currency to power exports, or a strong currency to pay down debt and raise additional capital? Unfortunately, investors can’t have their cake and eat it too – you can’t have a depreciating and appreciating currency at the same time.
While anxiety has shifted from strong emerging market currencies to the issues associated with weak currencies, India is one E.M that has reaped the rewards from a declining rupee (-20% since 2013). In other words, India is benefiting from a stronger trade balance via a boost in exports and reduction in imports – interestingly, the U.S. has experienced the exact opposite. Regardless, eventually, other emerging markets will benefit from these same positive trends as India – that will finally be a tasty slice of cake.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
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