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Sunday, 19 December 2021

S&P trims EM growth outlook for 2022

Emerging markets are walking into the new year with a lower growth outlook from S&P Global Ratings, which revised downwards its growth forecast for emerging markets by 0.1 percentage points to 3.5%. The ratings agency attributes the revision to the pandemic’s overstay and a slowdown in China for the downgrade, but maintained its long term outlook at an average of 3.1% between 2023 and 2024.

The drop was largely driven by slower growth in LatAm: Latin America — represented by Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Mexico — saw its collective growth outlook revised downwards 0.5 percentage points to 1.9%. This is a 4.3 percentage point drop from its 2021 forecasted growth of 6.2%, with S&P attributing the drop to high inflation. Coupled with slow growth and a weak labor market, the persistent inflation will drive the region’s continued demand for fiscal stimulus measures, the ratings agency says.

The EMEA region: Growth projections for key countries in EMEA — Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey — remained unchanged at an average of 2%, falling 2 percentage points from this year’s 5.2% growth rate. S&P blamed the decline in global demand for manufactured products and commodities, the withdrawal of fiscal support and volatile financing conditions. A number of EMEA central banks have put policy tightening front and center, either through introducing them or accelerating them. But on the upside, the agency is expecting the region’s economy to see above-average growth seeing that they’re still recovering from the pandemic.

It hasn’t been a great year for emerging markets, from the Evergrande crisis in China, the expected Fed taper and most recently the Omicron covid variant, each of which triggered capital outflows. EM bonds saw heavy outflows over real estate developer China Evergrande as investors withdrew almost USD 83 bn from exchange-traded emerging-market bond funds in September in a rush to withdraw from riskier debt. The biggest fund, the USD 20 bn iShares JPMorgan USD Emerging Markets Bond ETF, saw portfolio managers withdraw USD 781 mn during the last week of September, its biggest weekly outflow in almost seven months.

Then there’s the hawkish turn at the US Federal Reserve, which last week signalled that it would raise interest rates three times next year, and end its bond-buying programme three months earlier than planned in an aggressive pivot to combat surging inflation. Rising US rates will put emerging-market debt — including Egyptian bonds and T-bills — at risk of outflows as it becomes less attractive to foreign investors, and raise borrowing costs for governments that have accumulated debts denominated in USD.

Egypt could be in a better position to cope than other EMs: Egypt’s strong foreign reserves, fast-growing economy, and a switch to longer-term maturities in recent years mean Egypt is well-placed among its peers to weather a potential storm, though its large debt servicing costs make it vulnerable to a rise in interest rates.

And along came Omicron: Analysts warned that emerging markets will likely be hit hardest if Omicron is aggressive or if new travel restrictions are widely imposed and left in place for an extended period. Already facing pressure from the Fed taper and a strengthening greenback, emerging-market currencies — particularly those exposed to energy and tourism — could come under further pressure should the global health situation continue to deteriorate, analysts told Bloomberg. The initial detection of the variant saw the MSCI EM currency index drop YTD after investors fled risk assets, and with the USD sitting at its highest since July 2020, even countries that have aggressively hiked interest rates were struggling to prevent currency losses.

These factors are already being unkind to EMs: At the end of last month, investors pulled more than USD 850 mn from emerging-market debt ETFs as the discovery of the Omicron covid variant and the decision to keep Jay Powell as Federal Reserve head for another term fueled risk-off sentiment, according to data from Bloomberg. Bond funds saw huge weekly outflows, losing USD 640.2 mn during the week. Equities weren’t spared either, seeing USD 213.9 mn of outflows. The iShare JPMorgan ETF had its worst week since the pandemic first hit in March 2020, falling 2.6% at the same time as investors pulled USD 709.5 mn.

Many EMs also saw continued upticks in inflation throughout the year on the back of rising food and fuel prices. The UN FAO Food Price Index rose for the fourth consecutive month in November, to sit at its highest level since June 2011 of 134.4. S&P believes, however, that inflation will reach its peak during 4Q2021 as higher prices weaken demand.

Although things are looking better for Egypt after its annual inflation dropped for the second month in a row from a 20-month high in November as pressure on food prices continued to ease. The headline rate fell to 5.6% last month from 6.3% in October, the lowest rate since July and within the lower end of the central bank’s target range of 5-9% for 4Q2022. On a monthly basis, consumer prices rose ever-so-slightly by 0.1%, following October’s 1.1% rise.

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