US rate-storm brews, get set for another ‘tantrum’

Emerging markets have every right to feel nervous before Wednesday’s U.S. Federal Reserve monetary policy decision, with the central bank widely tipped to pave the way for a rate hike this year.

After all, it was just two years ago when a “taper tantrum” — or the talk of an end to the Fed’s bond-buying program hit emerging markets such as India and South Africa with a wave of currency depreciation and capital flight.

Read More Patient or not? Fed suspense peaking

“When central banks start to reverse course, there is going to be disruption but that might not last for years, that’s the one thing we have to keep in mind,” Jack Bouroudjian, chief investment officer at Index Financial Partners told CNBC Asia.

The International Monetary Fund’s Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on Tuesday that she feared the “taper tantrum” of 2013 was not a one-off event.

“This is so because the timing of interest-rate liftoff and the pace of subsequent rate increases can still surprise markets,” Lagarde said in a speech at India’s central bank in Mumbai.

She was speaking alongside Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan, who has repeatedly warned about the impact central bank actions in major economies can have on the developing world.

Easy monetary policy by major central banks to help combat the effects of the global financial crisis in 2007-2008 saw an influx of money into the world’s markets, a lot of which went into emerging economies.

According to Lagarde, emerging markets received about $4.5 trillion in gross capital inflows – about half of global capital flows – between 2009 and the end of 2012.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images Federal Reserve building in Washington, D.C., U.S.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Federal Reserve building in Washington, D.C., U.S.

Emerging markets in general have recovered some ground since the “taper tantrum” two years ago, but the concern is that U.S. monetary tightening will lead to a further exit of cash, and instability.

Read More Fed won’t raise interest rates this year: Marc Faber

In fact, talk of a U.S. rate hike has helped send the Turkish lira, the South African rand, the Brazilian real and the Indonesian rupiah to multi-year lows against the greenback this month.


Analysts said it would be wrong to think a Fed rate hike would trigger volatility in all emerging markets, since some such as India have taken measures in recent years to bring down their current account deficit and make their markets less sensitive to external shocks.

“I don’t think we can view the emerging markets as one group and that’s the problem with warnings about the impact of Fed tightening,” Neil Shearing, chief emerging market economist at Capital Economics, told CNBC.

“Emerging markets are more diverse than they were 20 years ago, so I don’t think overall gloom and doom is warranted although it might be in some cases,” he added.

What is likely to be more important for emerging markets, said Shearing, is not the timing of the first Fed hike but the pace of any monetary tightening.

Bouroudjian at Index Financial Partners added that any instability in emerging markets this time around would be countered by one important element – the sharp drop in oil prices, which is putting money back into the pockets of consumers and businesses globally.

U.S. oil prices hit a six-year low on Tuesday amid concerns about a supply glut.

“If there is going to be any kind of taper tantrum, you could say it’s going to be balanced out by the fact that you have lower energy costs which is a bullish fundamental for these emerging markets,” Bouroudjian said.

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