Out of the Eurozone frying pan: into the emerging markets fire

Will current account deficits across Asia, should we worry about contagion to weak peripheral Eurozone countries?

With the Indian Rupee, the Indonesian Rupiah, the Turkish Lira all selling off 10 per cent or thereabouts versus the USD since the beginning of August, July and May respectively, one is beginning to be reminded of the Asian Crisis of the late nineties, when current account deficit currencies lead the collapse to a full-blown disaster.

Then, as now, hot money had flooded in, as a desperate search for excess returns lead investors to boldy go where a few had never been before. After all, current account deficit countries need that flow of money to stay solvent and now, classically, the flow is suddenly drying up, as the returns on ‘risk-free’ investments, such as US Treasuries, have risen dramatically, (well, risk-free in the sense that you’ll get all your money back if you hold to maturity).

Lack of policy credibility and slowing growth don’t help. The former took a dent last week in India, when the  central bank introduced controls over the amount of money Indian residents and companies can send overseas. The trouble with partial capital controls is that then everyone fears the imminent implementation of full capital controls, and gets their money out as soon as possible, thus weakening the currency, etc, etc. This in addition to three gold import tax hikes this year.

Personally, I feel the chances of a full-blown repeat of the Asian crisis are quite slim-generally speaking, hard lessons were learned then and impressive FX reserves have been accumulated during the good years, also public debt levels are lower and savings rates higher, although Indonesia’s FX reserves are not as impressive as some, but even there the better performance of the economy should mean that a quick dose of higher interest rates will calm things down.

Should we worry about potential contagion to weak Eurozone peripheral countries? I don’t think so, as the current-account balances of Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain have all virtually improved to zero, compared to India’s 4.8 per cent deficit.

There’s no doubt that the rising tide of global QE experiments, and Chinese overseas investment, had floated many ships, and that some of them will be left marooned in the mud as the Fed begins to taper down its Quantitative Easing, but whilst a repeat of 1997/98 is probably not something to lose too much sleep over, severe stress in such massive economies as India and Indonesia may, however, have a deleterious effect on regional and even global growth.

At the moment I’d still classify this as a low probability, Black Swan event, given the obvious growth in strength of the recoveries in the US, UK, Eurozone and China. The latter evidenced by the latest The Markit/HSBC flash manufacturing PMI for August of 50.1, versus market expectation for 48.2, (last month 47.7).

Remember, however, the generally accepted definition of a Black Swan event; low probability, sure, but high impact if it comes to pass.

Indian sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik puts the finishing touches to his sand sculpture of a rupee coin in front of the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi. Photograph: STRDEL/Getty Images.

Chairman of  Saxo Capital Markets Board

An Honours Graduate from Oxford University, Nick Beecroft has over 30 years of international trading experience within the financial industry, including senior Global Markets roles at Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank. Nick was a member of the Bank of England's Foreign Exchange Joint Standing Committee.

More of his work can be found here.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.