Can it get any worse for emerging markets? It depends where you look.
Emerging markets have been battered as a the financial crisis unfolds in Turkey, forcing investors to cast a critical eye on other countries with less-than-pristine balance sheets and loads of U.S. dollar debt. Servicing that debt is of particular concern, as emerging-market currencies have been clobbered in recent weeks against an ascendant greenback.
Thankfully, they got some recent relief from an unexpected source: Donald Trump. The U.S. President criticized his central bank on Monday for raising interest rates, sending the U.S. dollar lower.
But the relief could be short-lived. Several emerging markets face complex risks – sizable current account deficits, persistent debt issues and political uncertainty – that aren’t easily solved. Here’s a look at four particularly vulnerable countries.
In some respects, no country has loaded up on foreign debt quite like Turkey.
The country’s non-financial private sector has borrowed more in foreign currencies than any other emerging market, according to the Institute of International Finance.
U.S. dollar borrowing, in particular, has been substantial. Non-bank borrowers – a group that includes government, households and most corporations – held U.S.-denominated debt equal to 23 per cent of gross domestic product in 2017, up from 12.4 per cent of GDP in 2008, according to National Bank Financial.
That’s a problem because most Turkish companies get their revenue in lira – which has spiralled 37 per cent versus the U.S. dollar this year, making debt payments more onerous.
Turkey’s political concerns have not ebbed, either. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come out against higher interest rates, raising concerns about the central bank’s independence as it looks to tame persistently high inflation rates.
In January, economists surveyed by Brazil’s central bank projected growth of 3 per cent in 2018. Their estimate has since been slashed in half.
After a crippling recession, Brazil has emerged with more tepid expansion than expected, along with a stubbornly high jobless rate and a currency that has crumbled against the U.S. dollar. The situation raises concerns that a populist could swing to power in October’s elections, further disrupting a delicate situation.
“Indeed, if it becomes clear that the next government will be unable to push through needed fiscal reforms – namely, overhauling the costly social security system – look for more pronounced volatility in Brazil’s financial markets,” BMO economists Art Woo and Sarah Howcroft said on Friday in a note to clients.
Much like Turkey, South Africa has not hesitated to court foreign investors. “The near doubling in the share of government bonds held by foreign investors makes the South African rand more vulnerable to shifts in global market sentiment,” Bloomberg economist Mark Bohlund wrote last week. The country’s budget and current account deficits make it reliant on financial inflows, while subdued prices for metals, a key export, make matters worse.
It isn’t always labelled an emerging market, but Venezuela has been a basket-case for years. Pummelled by runaway inflation, Venezuela has implemented a series of dramatic measures to remedy the situation, including a 95-per-cent currency devaluation and a minimum-wage hike of more than 3,000 per cent. The moves are “too little, too late,” Siobhan Morden, head of Latin America fixed income strategy at Nomura, wrote in note.