Business Maverick

Business Maverick

Stimulus Addiction Grows as Risk in Emerging Markets

Residents queue at a Shopping Mall in the Alexandra township of Johannesburg on June 5.

Emerging-market inflation is dormant even as governments and policymakers hurl money into the economy. Investors shouldn’t count on it staying that way.

Once the coronavirus pandemic is over, governments are going to struggle to wean themselves off the loose fiscal and monetary policies that have averted economic collapse, said David Hauner, a London-based strategist at Bank of America Corp. That risks reviving inflation, weakening currencies and undermining bonds.

“Many EM governments will confront even greater social problems post-Covid-19 than they were facing before,” Hauner said. “A permanent increase in government spending appears likely.”

For now, the coronavirus pandemic has slashed consumer demand and investment and pushed inflation to a record low in Brazil and a six-year low in Colombia. Across emerging markets inflation is moribund, allowing governments to ramp up spending and central banks to provide the liquidity markets need. The longer it goes on though, the harder it will be for policy makers to turn off the tap.

Mind the Gap

Still, the gap between breakevens, a measurement of inflation expectations, in riskier, high-beta markets and more stable low-beta peers is widening as traders begin to worry about inflation risks in countries with greater political and fiscal threats, according to Bank of America.

In the next six to 12 months, South Africa’s rand may be among the most at risk given lower policy rates, underlying vulnerabilities and the central bank’s quantitative-easing program, said Brendan McKenna, a foreign-exchange strategist at Wells Fargo Securities in New York. Brazil’s currency may also come under pressure as policy makers become increasingly likely to embark on a bond-buying program, he said.

While Chile’s central bank forecasts subdued inflation for the rest of the year, the amount of stimulus rolled out has also put the South American nation’s peso on McKenna’s radar, he said.

Brazil's real, Chile's peso and South Africa's rand may be at risk of higher inflation

The risks are highest for nations that have tapped foreign-currency markets and could run into trouble if their currencies decline sharply, said Damian Sassower, chief emerging-market credit strategist at Bloomberg Intelligence in New York, citing Turkey, South Africa and Colombia.

Read More: Developing-World QE May Be a Step Too Far for Foreign Investors

Prolonged monetary stimulus measures would be an even deeper issue for nations with less-credible central banks, according to Michael Bolliger, head of emerging-market asset allocation at UBS Switzerland AG in Zurich.

“It’s hard to break bad habits,” Bolliger wrote earlier this months. “There is a fine line between providing temporary support to local economies and the risk of higher inflation and ultimately debt monetization.”


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