Emerging Market Preview: Headwinds Generate Policy Response (but not in Brazil)

(from my colleagues Dr. Win Thin and Ilan Solot)

EM countries are facing serious growth headwinds that favor more monetary easing ahead. Hungary and Israel have already cut rates this week, while Thailand and Colombia are likely to ease later this week. The one glaring exception is Brazil, where the central bank is expected to hike rates tomorrow. Most EM currencies remain under pressure. As long as the pace is measured and controlled, we believe policymakers are quite happy to see currency weakness.

Bank of Thailand meets Wednesday, and is expected to cut rates 25 bp to 2.5%. If so, this would be the first cut since its 25 bp move back in October 2012. Resumption of the easing cycle is long overdue, but it seems that policymakers wanted to see how the economy fared after the distortions from the flooding played out. So far, it hasn’t been very uplifting, with consumption and investment slowing sharply in Q1 and IP actually contracting -3.8% y/y in April. Officials have cut export growth forecasts recently. Inflation continues to ease, with headline at a cycle low 2.4% y/y in April. More importantly, targeted core inflation is at its cycle low of 1.2% y/y, very near the bottom of the 0.5-3.0% target range. Officials are also signaling greater willingness to combat baht strength, and a rate cut will help here. USD/THB is trying to break above the 30 area, and a clean break would target 30.50 and then 31.00.

Brazil central bank meets Wednesday, and consensus is a 25 bp hike to 7.75%. Brazil will also report May IGP-M wholesale inflation and Q1 GDP on Wednesday, followed by April budget data on Friday. Consensus for GDP growth is a pick up to 2.3% y/y from 1.4% y/y in Q4. Fiscal policy has been loosened even as inflation remains at the top of the 2.5-6.5% target range. This has fed into some calls for a 50 bp hike this week, including us. USD/BRL traded at a new high for the year above 2.06 today, and we do not think policymakers are unhappy with this bout of currency weakness. So far, the central bank has not come in with swaps to protect the 1.95-2.05 range, suggesting that it may not be in effect if the range is broken due to widespread dollar gains.

South Africa has a busy week ahead. Q1 GDP was reported today much weaker than expected, rising only 0.9% annualized vs. 2.1% in Q4. April money and credit data, PPI and budget data are all due out Thursday, and April trade due out Friday. Though SARB left rates steady at 5.0% last week, as expected, we think that the macro backdrop it outlined sets the table for a rate cut in Q3. However, disinflation needs to get traction here like it has in the rest of the world before SARB can cut. The weak rand is also a factor preventing any easing for the time being. Next SARB meetings are July 18 and September 19. USD/ZAR is making new highs for this move today, nearing 9.80. Levels to look for ahead are 10.00, 10.50, and then the March 2009 high near 10.73.

Colombia central bank meets Friday and is expected to keep rates steady at 3.25%. However, we think the risks of dovish surprise are significant. The economy is still slowing, while inflation of 2.0% y/y is right at the bottom of the 2-4% target band. After cutting rates 50 bp in March, the central bank kept rates steady at the April 26 meeting. Officials should be happy with the weak peso, and a surprise cut now would go with the market momentum. USD/COP is making new highs for this move near 1900, and a clean break above this area would target 1950.

India reports Q1 GDP on Friday. Growth is expected to pick up slightly to 4.8% y/y from 4.5% y/y, but remains slow enough to keep pressure on the RBI to ease further after it cut policy rates 25 bp in May. Next RBI meeting is June 17, and though RBI Governor Subbarao said recently that he sees little room for easing, continued disinflation may allow for one or two more rate cuts this year. USD/INR is having trouble breaking above 56, but a clean break would target the June 2012 high near 57.33.

This Saturday, China will report the official PMI reading for May. After the weak China HSBC PMI reported overnight, markets will be looking for a weak official PMI reading too. Official manufacturing PMI was 50.6 in April. HSBC PMI was below 50 from July 2011 through October 2012, with only October 2011 showing a reading above 50. During that same period, official PMI was below 50 only three months and so tends to overstate strength in China manufacturing. As such, it's possible that the official PMI reading comes in above 50 this month. But the softening in China growth is clear, and so any relief from the official PMI is likely to be fleeting. Indeed, official comments recently are clearly trying to prepare markets for slower China growth ahead. Yet USD/CNY is making new lows, confounding our expectations for a steady to weaker currency.

To recap, Israel’s central bank cut rates Monday by 25 bp to 1.25%. Consensus was for no move, but given the urgency of the intra-meeting cut in early may, the Monday cut was really not that surprising. We believe that the central bank will likely continue cutting rates under Fischer’s successor. USD/ILS is moving higher, albeit slowly, and made a new high for this move today near 3.72. Next targets ahead are 3.75 and 3.80.

Also, Hungary’s central bank met today and cut rates by 25 bp to 4.5%, as expected. The economic data have improved modestly, but not by enough to prevent further easing. HUF is defying gravity yet again, with EUR/HUF making new lows for this move near 285 today. Break below this level would target the 280 area. Bloomberg survey has Hungary's policy rate bottoming at 4.25% this year, but we think it could go lower than that. Next central bank meeting is June 25, and we could easily see another cut then. Minutes from today's meeting are due out June 12. Inflation continues to fall, and at 1.7% y/y is below the 2-4% target range. The forint has really firmed recently, and so the central bank will be able to ease again without having to worry about a weak exchange rate. This stands in contrast to South Africa, where high inflation and a weak currency are preventing the SARB from cutting rates now.
Emerging Market Preview: Headwinds Generate Policy Response (but not in Brazil) Emerging Market Preview:  Headwinds Generate Policy Response (but not in Brazil) Reviewed by Marc Chandler on May 28, 2013 Rating: 5
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