Saturday, July 23, 2011

Top 5 Graphs of the Week - 24 Jul 2011

This week we check in on the current inflation and monetary policy situation for the key developed economies and emerging markets, with a particular focus on the outlook for inflation and interest rates, and the likely consequent outlook for developed vs emerging market equities. Overall it's looking like the monetary policy outlook may become more friendly to emerging markets than developed markets, but of course that could all change if certain key risks materialize...

1. BRIC Inflation
Inflation has been a key issue in emerging markets this year, creating a unique set of risks e.g. policy tightening, overheating and hyperinflation, social unrest, exported inflation, etc. These risks have only expressed to a limited extent so far. Within the BRIC economies the most recent data (Brazil 6.71%, Russia 9.4%, India 8.72%, China 6.4%) has shown some hope of a peak in inflation or a tapering off, but the risk of further inflation remains as the BRIC economies remain relatively strong, and with commodity prices easing only somewhat. So the key focus for inflation risks is whether the recent string of monetary policy tightening moves is enough...
2. BRIC Interest Rates
Looking at the BRIC central banks, focusing on interest rates, total interest rate moves since policy rates bottomed out are as follows: Brazil +375 basis points, Russia +50bps, China +125bps, India +325bps. Each of the banks are playing a delicate and fraught balancing act with the risks of further inflation on the one hand and the risks of scuttling growth or even hard landing on the other hand. For now the balance is probably about right, but we're approaching territory where any further upside impetus on the inflation front is likely to force the central banks' hands to more aggressive tightening. Of course this will be bad for equities, with emerging market equities being held firmly back by this monetary policy tightening, but on the other hand, if inflation shows signs of peaking or even turning then emerging market equities should start to factor in an end to monetary policy tightening.

3. Developed Market Inflation
While developed markets have not been growing as fast as emerging markets, thanks in part to rising commodity prices, general price normalization, and demand normalization, inflation has clearly recovered in developed markets. Since their lowest figures in 2009 to the most recent readings inflation has increased as follows US +570bps, EU +340bps, Japan +290bps, UK +310bps. However each of those economies still remain at least 100bps away from the peak inflation figures of 2008. That will most likely not last. In fact, without a significant drop in commodity prices or a return to recession (a non-zero probability given some of the recent weaker readings and the Euro and US debt risks), inflation will almost certainly return to pre-crisis levels, and policy makers could easily miss the boat.

4. Developed Market Interest Rates
With the exception of the ECB, the monetary policy response to rising inflation has been to ignore it and focus on the growth side of things. This stance probably makes sense for the period of about 2-years after the crisis due to the depth and severity of it all. But abnormally low rates are not sustainable, low rates lead to greater risk appetites and ultimately higher inflation. The only saving grace is that governments like the US, UK and Japan all seriously need to do some decent fiscal tightening to get their government finances in order; this may (or may not) contain some aspects of inflation, but ultimately these banks need to start on a slow progression back to normality. So on balance the monetary policy outlook for developed markets is likely more bearish for equities than the outlook in emerging markets.

5. Monetary Policy Week in Review
Diving back down to the detail in the here and now, the past week in monetary policy saw the Banco Central do Brasil increase its Selic rate by 25 basis points to 12.50%. Meanwhile those that held rates unchanged were: Canada at 1.00%, South Africa at 5.50%, Turkey at 6.25%, and Egypt at 8.25%. Common themes in the media releases were a pretty keen focus on the risks coming from the EU and US debt situations, and Brazil possibly signaled an end to its tightening cycle. Next week there's a few interesting monetary policy decisions due; Israel, India, New Zealand and the Philippines are among those reviewing policy settings, with India the only one expected to move, with consensus seeing another +25bps.


So we saw inflation tracking along in emerging markets, showing a brief history of accelerating inflation, and although upside inflation risks remain, there are some signs that inflation may be peaking in at least some of the BRIC economies. Accordingly the monetary policy outlook for emerging markets could well become more accomodative, or at least no more tighter, and this could possibly brighten the outlook for emerging market equities.

Over to developed markets, flirtations with deflation were quite short-lived as the past year or so has seen significant reinflation, and unless fiscal tightening is particularly onerous, and as long as another slowdown is avoided, the inflation outlook for developed economies might be for further upside. Accordingly, the monetary policy outlook for developed economies is, or at least should be, for tightening and higher interest rates, which may take some of the shine of developed market equities.

So for the emerging market vs developed market equity allocation, a keen eye should be fixed on the developing inflation and monetary policy outlook, for today; this is a macro-driven market.

Graph Sources:
1. Trading Economics
2. Central Bank News
3. OECD Statistics
4. Central Bank websites
5. Central Bank News

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