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Emerging Markets Debt: Beyond the Benchmarks
The macroeconomic backdrop in emerging markets has been uncertain for some time now—indeed, if anything, uncertainty seems to be increasing. War continues in Ukraine, inflation globally remains sticky (particularly core inflation) and, consequently, global monetary policy is, overall tilted toward tightening (relatedly, the Reserve Bank of Australia announced a surprise hike in early May). And at least partially thanks to tighter monetary policy (which is ongoing, with both the Fed and ECB raising rates again at their recent May meetings), some things have broken—e.g., we’ve seen a cryptocurrency winter, trouble with UK pension funds, concern about global real estate and, most recently, bank failures in the US and Europe.
Easter-Egg Hunting: IMF Edition
EMsights team members returned to Washington, D.C., in April for the IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings, conducting some 200 interactions with a swath of government officials and representatives. Frequent readers will recall we similarly attended the IMF and World Bank Annual Meetings last fall—and were unsurprised by the somber mood, given ongoing macro and geopolitical uncertainty.
Let Freedom Ring
EMsights Capital Group believes that economic and political freedoms and rule of law are important precursors for the economic development, growth, education and sustainability of sovereign countries. Through active due diligence, including on-the-ground country visits, in-person meetings with political, business and government officials, and daily monitoring of political and financial news, we actively follow a country’s pursuit and execution of fair and free elections, civil liberties, functioning of government, and the importance it places on economic freedom in real-time – in both its rhetoric as well as its enforcement of these principles.
Over the past year, Egypt made headlines as it worked to navigate through a challenging macroeconomic operating environment and high external financing needs. In particular, the recent surge in US Treasury yields gave rise to the harmful narrative that “markets are closed” to countries like Egypt that would need to price new issuance yields in excess of 10%. We think this narrative has been harmful as it incentivizes countries to wait until they are facing significant time pressure. Instead, we believe countries should take a long-term view, recognizing that yields move around, and begin to formulate financing plans that acknowledge the reality of current market pricing.
A Look Forward to 2023: Giving It a Wide Berth
In the emerging markets debt space, the political process can turn the tide of policy and outcomes in a country. As we flip the calendar to 2023, there are several elections and potential policymaker changes on the horizon that could make a splash. As such, we monitor developments on elections closely and find that the following may carry the most weight in the coming months as they will dictate the direction of macroeconomic policy and changes to the quality of governance in the countries we look at.
2022: No Love Lost
Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2022: gaslighting. After 2021’s market resurgence from the worst of pandemic-lows, investors were left feeling like a spurned lover in 2022—misled, manipulated and filled with self-doubt from the volatility this year.
Another One Bites the Dust: Ghana’s Gaffes
Following its return to democracy in the early 1990s, investors began to show renewed optimism for Ghana as a pacesetter in the region. In ensuing years, the country was a beneficiary of the heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC) initiative that saw a successful reduction of its public debt from approximately 80% of its GDP in 2000 to around 20% in 2004, putting the country on a positive trajectory. Instead of taking advantage of a clean slate, Ghana’s post-HIPC history has included widening deficits, the abandonment of a disciplined fiscal framework at the onset of Covid-19 and rising core rates as of late. Markets have punished Ghana and given an increasingly unsustainable debt load, Ghana is unable to access external financing sources. Public debt is projected to reach about 100% of GDP by the end of 2022.
Bravo Tokayev—What a Difference a Year Makes
Recently, EMsights partook in a due diligence trip to the nations of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan. We found Kazakhstan, which began 2022 in a bit of chaos, headed down a fascinating path towards reform and disentanglement from Russia. While we would like to see more progress made on Kazakhstan’s economic reform agenda, we are excited to see what President Tokayev does next.
Inflation Communication Breakdown
The decision-making process and subsequent market reaction to central bank actions largely dictated financial headlines over the past few weeks. As a recap, the European Central Bank, the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England all implemented 75 basis point rate hikes. These increases came in an effort to stave off persistently high inflation prints in their regions, including 9.9%, 8.2% and 10.1% annualized rates of inflation in September, respectively.
Lula—Take 2: Lula Victorious in Brazilian Presidential Election
Following a tightly contested race, Brazil’s presidential election on Sunday, October 30 resulted in victory for former President (2003-2011) Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (or “Lula”) of the Workers’ Party and subsequent defeat for right-wing incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro. Lula amassed more than 60 million votes for the most in the country’s history to defeat Bolsonaro by less than 2% in Brazil’s tightest finish on record.