Doubts grow over developed markets' immunity to woes

A currency exchange office in Istanbul, Turkey. The Turkish lira has slumped against the greenback amid rising tensions between the US and Turkey. While the crisis in Turkey began as a home-grown problem, the stress has spilled over to other markets.
A currency exchange office in Istanbul, Turkey. The Turkish lira has slumped against the greenback amid rising tensions between the US and Turkey. While the crisis in Turkey began as a home-grown problem, the stress has spilled over to other markets.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Contagion from emerging economies could spread to mature markets, say experts

As the sell-offs in Turkey and Argentina spread to other emerging markets, doubts that developed markets can retain their immunity are getting stronger.

JPMorgan Chase says the vulnerability of mature markets to contagion emanating from developing nations hinges on Asia's economic resilience.

For ING, the risk is that monetary tightening in many emerging economies could eventually crimp growth and have a knock-on impact for advanced economies.

Emerging markets are out of favour among investors this year amid concerns ranging from tighter US monetary policy to a raft of idiosyncratic risks, including Argentina's fiscal woes and Turkey's twin deficits. While the risk of contagion has risen among developing economies, the worry that bigger nations are not immune to such risks is rising, says chief Asia economist Rob Carnell at ING in Singapore.

"A global emerging-market downturn could be enough to weigh on those asset prices" in developed markets, he added. "Developed markets are living on borrowed time to some extent." When they start to crumble, gold, which has been an underperformer, could be worth looking at, he said.

Outside of Hong Kong, most developed markets are holding up relatively well. The S&P 500 index is hovering near record highs, having had five consecutive months of positive returns, while the MSCI Emerging Markets Index of shares has tumbled more than 20 per cent from its January high. The MSCI Emerging Markets Currency Index has lost about 6 per cent this year, set for its first annual loss in three years.

Declines in emerging-market currencies have prompted some central banks to defend currencies by raising interest rates, which sets back growth, Mr Carnell said.

While the crisis in Argentina and Turkey began as home-grown problems, the stress has spilled over to markets such as Indonesia as investors' herd mentality drives them to even sell those with better fundamentals, he added.

The European Central Bank is set to tweak its forecasts for euro-area economic growth as global trade tensions damp external demand, according to officials familiar with the latest projections. Britain and Turkey are among nations dragging on demand, though the US outlook is still positive, officials said.

For JPMorgan, the knock-on effect into advanced economies from a severe downturn in the emerging world would be dependent on Asia, which has been resilient and is much more integrated with the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, analysts including Mr Daniel Hui and Mr Patrick Locke wrote in a report.

Should the US-China trade conflict reach a point where there is material disruption and negative impact on supply chains, Asia and developed markets will be relatively more vulnerable, they wrote.

"Asia is a huge global player," Mr Carnell said. "If you take Asia out of the global economic picture, you don't have very strong global economic growth."

For Bank of New York Mellon, the ability of developed markets to continue to decouple from the concerns in emerging markets will largely be based on the continuation of the positive trends in US growth and strong earnings, Mr Marvin Loh, the firm's senior global market strategist in Boston, wrote in a note.

"We'll find out just how strong those profit numbers are if the trade war carries on," Mr Carnell said. "Developed-market asset prices are still incredibly high. At some point, you have to think there has to be a correction."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2018, with the headline 'Doubts grow over developed markets' immunity to woes'. Print Edition | Subscribe