Emerging markets

Financial markets began 2014 in an ebullient mood. Omens of economic recovery in the developed world buoyed investors across the globe. Troubles in emerging markets, it was thought, would amount only to a handful of little local difficulties.
It did not last.
In developed markets, the past three weeks have seen the steepest falls in equity prices since mid-2013, when fears that the US Federal Reserve would begin phasing out its massive bond-buying programme caused interest rates to surge. This time, however, there has been no rise in short-term interest rates in the US or Europe, and bond yields have fallen slightly. There has been no change then in the market’s reading of the Fed or the European Central Bank’s policy stance.

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Central bankers nowadays have the power to move the global markets by uttering nothing more than a brief, off-the-cuff remark. “Whatever it takes,” was Mario Draghi‘s version, which saved the euro last year. “In the next few meetings,” was Ben Bernanke’s equivalent last month. There will be rapt attention turned on the Fed chairman’s press conference on Wednesday to see whether he retracts that remark, which of course relates to the time when the Fed might start to slow the pace of its asset purchases.

Mr Bernanke does not carelessly throw out such remarks, so it would surely be incoherent for him to withdraw it completely this week. The Fed is unlikely to have been particularly troubled by the bout of market volatility seen lately. Much of it has come in foreign markets, which are not the Fed’s responsibility. Meanwhile, in the US itself, the reversal of the “reach for yield” is precisely what the Fed has been wanting to see for several months.

The killer phrase “in the next few meetings” is therefore likely to remain on the table after the press conference on Wednesday. However, the Fed chairman will hammer home exactly what he means by this message, since there are signs that it has been misunderstood by investors. In particular, the US Treasury market is sending some messages which should worry the Fed. Read more

This week, the continuing strength of global equities in the face of several shocks to the world economy became more impressive, or more puzzling, depending on your point of view. Oil prices rose to a level which will be a serious problem for the uspwing, should it persist. (See this earlier blog.) The ECB became the first of the major central banks to tighten monetary policy. Portugal finally accepted the inevitable. And yet global equities continued to rise.

Furthermore, emerging markets significantly outperformed their developed market counterparts, reversing part of their under-performance in the first few weeks of the year. Several investment banks have now tipped the emerging markets as the right place to be if the developed economies slow under the weight of rising oil prices later in the year. But I am far from convinced about this.  Read more

The financial markets remain torn between their concerns over “black swans” (exogenous shocks from oil prices, food prices, and the Japanese earthquake) and the improving state of the global economy.  Read more

This week in global macro, the emerging markets reminded us that they are, well, emerging markets. The Egyptian crisis may have moved towards resolution, but there are risks of contagion elsewhere in the region. India continues to be the worst performing stock market of the year, and China is slowing under the weight of tightening monetary policy.

Developed equity markets continue to out-perform, although headline inflation is rising, notably in the UK. Although many people are claiming that the Bank of England is losing credibility, that is not yet showing in the gilt market. In the US, there were some signs of greater hawkishness from certain members of the FOMC, but none where it really counts – which is in the minds of Ben Bernanke and his senior lieutenants. The US equity market ended the week at its highest level since June 2008. Read more

This week, the dramatic events in Egypt failed to unsettle the global financial markets. Not only do investors believe that Egypt itself is not critical for global oil prices, they also seem to believe that there will be relatively little contagion to the more important oil producing states elsewhere in the Middle East. Read more

The global financial markets have been remarkably stable this week, considering the dramatic events which have been taking place in the Middle East. Whether this complacency is about to be shattered remains to be seen. After all, there are plenty of reasons for real concern when the world’s largest oil producing region shows signs of mounting political instability, as Nouriel Roubini emphasises in the FT today. But there are also grounds for hoping that the Egyptian crisis might be resolved without causing disruption in the neighbouring Gulf states which contain the vast majority of the region’s oil supplies.

And meanwhile optimism has been boosted by this week’s business survey data, which show that the world economy is in increasingly robust condition as 2011 begins. The markets seem disposed to see the glass as half full for the time being. Read more