Traders Flee Emerging Markets at Fastest Pace Since 2008

Forget 2008, Emerging Markets Feel More Like 1974
  • Investors have sold $40 billion of assets in the third quarter
  • Biggest outflow since fourth quarter of 2008, IIF data show

Investors have pulled $40 billion out of developing economies in the third quarter, fleeing emerging markets at the fastest pace since the height of the global financial crisis.

The quarterly outflow was the first since 2009 and the biggest since the final three months of 2008, when traders sold $105 billion of assets, according to the Institute of International Finance. The retreat came as data signaled faltering Chinese economic growth, commodity prices slumped and the Federal Reserve moved closer to an increase in the near-zero U.S. interest rates that have supported demand for riskier assets in developing nations.

About $19 billion of the selloff was equities, with the remaining $21 billion in debt, the IIF said in a report Tuesday. There were outflows in all three months this quarter. 

The MSCI Emerging Markets stocks benchmark has declined 20 percent in the past three months, on track for the biggest retreat in four years. Local-currency developing-nation bonds have lost 6.6 percent in dollar terms in the third quarter, according to Bank of America Corp. indexes, the biggest retreat on a quarterly basis since 2011. Currencies from Brazil to South Africa have tumbled, sending a gauge of 20 foreign-exchange rates to a record low.

Severe Reaction

“The reaction we’re seeing is quite severe, but a lot of the damage has already probably taken place,” Brendan Ahern, managing director of Krane Fund Advisors LLC in New York, said by phone. “It’s the trifecta of slowing investment growth, declining commodity prices and the strong dollar.”

A recovery around the Fed’s meeting this month, when policy makers decided to hold off on their first borrowing-cost increase since 2006, provided only a short-lived boost to portfolio flows, with outflows resuming and dipping back into negative territory in the week of Sept. 21, according to the IIF. Concern about the timing of a Fed liftoff have probably added to recent market volatility, further weighing on emerging-markets flows, the industry group said.

Corporate debt of non-financial firms in emerging markets rose to more than $18 trillion in 2014 from $4 trillion in 2004, the International Monetary Fund said in a study also released Tuesday.

Corporate Distress

“The upward trend in recent years naturally raises concerns because many emerging-market financial crises have been preceded by rapid leverage growth,” the authors including Selim Elekdag wrote, which is part of a larger report to be released next month.

For much of the past 15 years, easy credit from the Fed and a robust Chinese economy combined to drive investment dollars into emerging markets and drive growth. Now, the withdrawal of loose monetary policies pose a key risk for the emerging-market corporate sector if the flow of capital reverses, according to the Washington-based lender.

“Emerging markets should be prepared for corporate distress and sporadic failures in the wake of monetary policy normalization in advanced economies, and where needed and feasible, should reform insolvency regimes,” the IMF report said.

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