QEs And EM: A Love-Hate Story

Has quantitative easing (QE) among developed nations’ central banks benefited emerging markets (EM)? While it seems very intuitive to answer “yes,” our EM strategists believe the interaction between G7 QEs and EM financial markets and economies has been much more complicated. In fact, this relationship resembles a love-hate story.

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On one hand, G7 QEs has depressed yields on their local domestic fixed-income securities, encouraging global investors’ “love” toward EM. Consequently, substantial capital has flown from the G7 into EM. On the other hand, EM risk assets – stocks, currencies and credit markets – have performed very poorly, despite ongoing and rotating QEs within the advanced countries.

Many investors have been disappointed by EM’s broad-based poor performance. As for EM policymakers, back in 2009-’10 they struggled to contain massive portfolio inflows. Now, a number of them are struggling with outflows. Both issues – investors’ disappointments with EM asset performance and EM policymakers’ travails managing the torrential inflows/outflows – reflect the “hate” aspect of the interactions between QEs and EM.

The reason why EM risk assets have done poorly despite the ongoing QEs is their indigent fundamentals in general and sharply deteriorated return on capital. Capital inflows related to QE led to overinvestment and mal-investment in EM, which is now weighing on profitability.

By and large, odds are low that the ECB’s QE will be very different from the previous QEs with respect to its impact on EM; it could produce short-term bounces in EM, but the cyclical outlook for EM risk assets remains downbeat.

Dollar, Oil And U.S. Investment Strategy

Currency and commodity markets are having overdue technical countertrend moves after moving a long way in a short period of time. “One-way bets” are over. Price moves in the other direction will be violent given the crowded nature of these trades, but, according to our U.S. investment strategists they will not prove sustainable.

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The trade-weighted dollar and crude oil prices exhibit all the signs of major technical extremes. Spot prices are far away from moving averages. Intermediate-term momentum indicators have been stretched for several weeks. Trading sentiment is lopsidedly optimistic on the dollar and equally pessimistic on oil. Speculators are long the dollar, although oil positioning is less clear owing to lack of speculative positioning data for Brent futures prices. Nevertheless, oil market open interest remains high even after the recent bloodbath. Market-positioning extremes on this order of magnitude suggest that these trends are overdue for at least a pause. However, they do not provide insights into whether the underlying trends are reversing.

For the dollar, relative monetary conditions between the U.S. and the rest of the world continue to diverge. Fed hawks and doves still have a mid-2015 rate hike in their sights. In contrast, rate cuts and QE are the default setting in most other developed and emerging countries, with rare exceptions like Brazil. Policymaker attitudes towards their currencies also continue to diverge. Fed officials emphasize the transitory nature of the strong dollar’s impact, while Abenomics in Japan has a weaker yen as an unofficial target.

For oil, prices may not have much more downside, but we expect more volatility than price recovery.