Timing is everything, the pros on Wall Street say. That is especially true right now with the collapse of emerging market economies and their currencies. Everywhere you look, the BRICs are cratering. The Russian ruble is heading back to record lows against the dollar. Chinese officials are masking massive bubbles in their economy and openly manipulating their currency, attempting to stimulate growth. Brazil is a basket case and getting worse by the day with tens of thousands demonstrating in the street against the government—a powder keg of social unrest that could threaten all of Latin America. The one stand out is India, but recent robust growth may be impeded by bad loans still on the books. In any case, the Rupee has weakened in sympathy with other emerging markets.
So, one could be forgiven for asking the question, is it time to buy emerging market currencies?
My answer is no, at least not yet. There is still a lot of pain to come. It seems to me we are still near the beginning of this current EM currency sell-off. The main reason, in my humble opinion, is there are serious structural barriers to emerging markets regaining their luster, not to mention their value.
Let’s take Russia for instance. It’s common knowledge that the Russian federal budget relies on the sale of crude oil and natural gas for over half its revenue.Combined with Western sanctions, this dependence on hydrocarbons for Russia’s future is a dangerous cocktail for the Kremlin. Moscow has refused to diversify its economy in any material way over the last ten years. In fact, a case could be made that the Russian economy is more dependent now on oil revenue than it was during the days of the Soviet Union! Corruption is rampant in Russia, making it one of the worst places to start a new business. The game is rigged for Putin’s friends, the oligarchs. Until this simple fact changes, selling pressure will continue for the ruble. At some price, the ruble may be a screaming buy, but not yet.The cards are stacked against it.
China has been in the news a lot lately, as the PBOC shocked the financial world with a 2%+ devaluation last week. It is obvious, even to the casual observer, that there is serious turmoil and chaos in China at the moment. The government is attempting to manage a very delicate balancing act and right now it’s not working out so well. The problem is the misallocation of capital as government manipulation creates one bubble after the other. I think it’s safe to say, this will not end well. So do you buy the yuan at these levels? I think not, the risk it too great of further destabilization.
What about Brazil, you ask? I wouldn’t go near the real with a ten foot pole, at least not at the moment. Rousseff has gone all-in with her redistributionist, Marxist policies. The result was predictable. All of the years of the Lula pragmatic reforms have been wasted. Brazil has fallen into the populist, Latam trap. It will be a long time before she claws her way out. There will be a time to buy Brazil, but right now, it’s no where close. Keep your powder dry.
Again, timing is everything. Wait until there is a lot more blood in the streets. It’s exciting to see opportunities in the emerging market weakness but choose your entry point very wisely.
L. Todd Wood is a former emerging market debt trader with 18 years of Wall Street and international experience. He is also an author of historical fiction thriller novels. His first of several books, Currency, deals with the consequences of overwhelming sovereign debt. He is a contributor to Fox Business, Washington Times, Newsmax TV, and others. LToddWood.com