Seeking EM opportunities

Seeking EM opportunities

June appears to have been a tentatively better month for emerging markets (EM) on aggregate.

The EM ex-China purchasing managers’ index (PMI) edged up for the first time this year. Data out of China is mixed and still suggests a softening trend, but was more encouraging at the margin. 

Nonetheless, one month does not make a trend. With our fidelity leading indicator, a proprietary economic model, stuck deeply in the negative, especially in key EM-sensitive areas like global trade and commodities, the outlook is subdued.

Moreover, the most vulnerable EMs – Brazil, Turkey, South Africa – have seen their PMIs plummet further, back in contraction. 

One important development is that broad EM currencies have tentatively stabilised in recent weeks, although several Asian currencies have come under pressure since mid-June as the renminbi ‘anchor’ gave way following People's Bank of China easing.

While this is marginally positive for EM countries’ inflation-policy-growth mix, forceful US Federal Reserve tightening and worsening global growth conditions will keep emerging market currencies and central banks on the back foot.

Indeed, to see significant respite for EM financial conditions, investors may need to wait for the Fed to show signs of relenting on its current policy of steady rate hikes and quantitative tightening. Such an easing off may be forthcoming later in the year, but for now it is not on the table. 

China eased policy at the margin in late June, cutting the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) for banks to unleash approximately 0.7per cent of GDP liquidity (although of course, China’s debt load is over 250 per cent of gross domestic product).

This led to a sizeable drop in domestic interest rates, which in turn caused a renminbi depreciation that was ultimately well-controlled. Capital controls and intervention by state owned banks seemingly remain an effective backstop. 

China easing has led to a significant but controlled RMB sell-off; this is unlikely sufficient to reverse China’s growth slowdown

 While further such RRR cuts are perfectly likely, Chinese domestic conditions will remain relatively tight; broad credit expansion continues to run at the slowest rate since the tough times of mid-2014 to mid-2015.

This will keep growth under pressure – reflected in cratering industrial metals prices and weaker data – although a continuation of the current, manageable slowdown is the base case. The possibility of a ‘policy mistake’, for example leading to painful credit defaults, is always a key ‘tail risk’. 

Despite countless headlines dedicated to US-China trade wars, pinning them as the root of all sell-offs, the economic magnitudes are small and risks overblown.

Estimates of the impact of Trump’s mooted tariffs on $250bn (£192bn) of goods (plus retaliation) on Chinese GDP come in below 0.5 per cent; the dollar amount of the measures themselves are just 0.23 per cent of GDP, and so far, we have only seen tariffs actually implemented on $34bn (£26bn) of goods.