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.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: How should Labour respond?

The government always gets a boost out of big setpieces. But elections are won over months not days. 

Three days in the political calendar are utterly frustrating for Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – the Queen’s Speech, the Budget and the Autumn Statement. No matter how unpopular the government is – and however good you are as an opposition - this day is theirs. The government will dominate the headlines. And played well they will carry the preceding with pre-briefed good news too. You just have to accept that, but without giving in or giving up.

It is a cliche that politics is a marathon not a sprint, but like most cliches that observation is founded in truth. So, how best to respond on the days you can’t win? Go to the fundamentals. And do the thing that oddly is far too little done in responses to budgets or autumn statements – follow the money.

No choices in politics are perfect - they are always trade offs. The art is in balancing compromises not abolishing them. The politics and the values are expressed in the choices that you make in prioritising. This is particularly true in budgets where resources are allocated across geographies - between towns, cities and regions, across time - short term or long term, and across the generations - between young and old. To govern is to choose. And the choices reveal. They show the kind of country the government want to create - and that should be the starting point for the opposition. What kind of Britain will we be in five, ten, fifteen years as these decisions have their ultimate, cumulative impact?

Well we know, we are already living in the early days of it. The Conservative government is creating a country in which there are wealthy pensioners living in large homes they won, while young people who are burdened with debts cannot afford to buy a home. One in which health spending is protected - albeit to a level a third below that of France or Germany – while social care, in an ageing society, is becoming residualised. One where under-regulated private landlords have to fill the gap in the rented market caused by the destruction of the social housing sector.

But description, though, is not sufficient. It is only the foundation of a critique - one that will succeed only if it describes not only the Britain the Tories are building but also the better one that Labour would deliver. Not prosaically in the form of a Labour programme, but inspirationally as the Labour promise.

All criticism of the government – big and little – has to return to this foundational narrative. It should connect everything. And it is on this story that you can anchor an effective response to George Osborne. Whatever the sparklers on the day or the details in the accompanying budgetary documentation, the trajectory is set. The government know where they are going. So do informed commentators. A smart opposition should too. The only people in the dark are the voters. They feel a pinch point here, a cut there, an unease and unfairness everywhere – but they can’t sum it up in words. That is the job of the party that wants to form a government – describing in crisp, consistent and understandable terms what is happening.

There are two traps on the day. The first is narrowcasting - telling the story that pleases you and your closest supporters. In that one the buzzwords are "privatisation" and "austerity". It is the opposite of persuasion aimed, as it is, at insiders. The second is to be dazzled by the big announcements of the day. Labour has fallen down here badly recently. It was obvious on Budget Day that a rise in the minimum wage could not compensate for £12bn of tax credit cuts. The IFS and the Resolution Foundation knew that. So did any adult who could do arithmetic and understood the distributional impact of the National Minimum Wage. It could and should have been Labour that led the charge, but frontbenchers and backbenchers alike were transfixed by the apparent appropriation of the Living Wage. A spot of cynicism always comes in handy. In politics as in life, if something seems to be too good to be true then … it is too good to be true.

The devil may be in the detail, but the error is in the principle – that can be nailed on the day. Not defeated or discredited immediately, but the seeds planted.  

And, if in doubt, take the government at their word. There is no fiercer metric against which to measure the Tories than their own rhetoric. How can the party of working people cut the incomes of those who have done the right thing? How can the party who promised to protect the health service deliver a decade of the lowest ever increases in spending? How can the party of home ownership banish young people to renting? The power in holding a government to account is one wielded forensically and eloquently for it is in the gap between rhetoric and reality that ordinary people’s lives fall.

The key fact for an opposition is that it can afford to lose the day if it is able to win the argument. That is Labour’s task.