Bargain Hunters: How to Grab the Cheapest Emerging Market Currencies Since 2011 4
Emerging Market Currencies

After a five-year bear market, developing nations’ currencies are swinging back into favor.

And little wonder. Emerging markets have been punished to such an extent that their real effective exchange rates – after stripping out changes in relative prices – are lower than they were during the peak of the global financial crisis.

The damage on average is a bruising 18 percentage-point plunge to the cheapest levels since 2011, according to Standard Life’s pricing-power parity analysis.

SL Chart

There’s good evidence to support a rebound. Slowing economic growth has crimped domestic demand for imports, for example. That’s helped to shrink current account deficits across most emerging markets and reduced local purchases of dollars.

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But before you load your trolley with rubles and reais, a word of caution. Despite their depreciations, emerging market currencies have yet to plumb the depths at the start of the millennium, when crises from Argentina to Turkey kept investors at bay.

And there’s no sign of a return to the dynamics that turbo-charged the last big rally in emerging market currencies – to wit: massive credit stimulus from China, the resulting boom in demand for commodities, and unprecedented monetary easing by central banks around the world.

That all ended in the “taper tantrum” of 2013 when the former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke pre-announced the winding down of quantitative easing. By 2014, the price of oil was collapsing and traders fretted about a Chinese hard landing.

While monetary policy is staying loose a little longer than planned, it’s unlikely to be supportive of developing nation currencies for very much longer, says Kieran Curtis, who oversees $1.3 billion in emerging market assets at Standard Life. And despite the stabilization of commodity prices, there’s still caution aplenty on the outlook for global growth.

What this all means is that emerging market currencies are far more likely to be driven by domestic factors. Compare, for example, Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s success in consolidating his coalition and driving down inflation against South Africa’s panicked succession of finance ministers and economic deterioration. Such factors weigh on the rand versus the rupiah.

“Overall, emerging-market currencies have room to rally after years of weakness,” says Curtis. “But our view is that they are not quite cheap enough to shut your eyes and buy.”

With eyes open wide, Curtis gives his full bucket list of currencies to buy and those to avoid on this week’s Emerging Opportunities show. Listen to the show here

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