Capital Flows’ Quality Deterioration Qualms

The IIF’s May reading of private capital allocation to 30 markets reduced this year’s projection to below $1 trillion for a post-financial crisis low as Q1 economic growth was just 4 percent and inflows/GDP at 3.5 percent were the worst since 2002. Next year after Fed rate hikes and possible abatement of geopolitical standoffs as in Russia-Ukraine the total should recover to $1.2 trillion, but a “stress event” can still be envisioned and amplified with the lack of secondary trading and high corporate debt. Portfolio investment has been volatile in recent months and $10-15 billion in outflows accompanied the German bund “mini-tantrum” despite the ECB’s $50 billion buying program. Equity commitments will rise 20 percent from 2014 to $130 billion on discount valuations versus mature markets, while fixed-income stays flat at $170 billion. FDI will decline 10 percent to $530 billion chiefly from China and Russia pullback. China alone will send that amount outward in the form of official reserve recycling, commercial investment and repayment, and capital flight as the other tracked economies send an equal sum abroad for a $1.2 trillion total. Russian money exit slowed to $25 billion in the last quarter as the ruble firmed and companies covered external obligations with central bank aid.

Global growth may pick up slightly in 2016 under benign assumptions of gradual Fed rate hikes and firmer commodity prices which allow healthy consumption and exports. However sudden US wage pressure with skilled positions hard to fill could be a negative surprise affecting all asset classes with sudden risk aversion, and especially large current account deficit countries like Brazil, South Africa and Turkey. This shock would come against a background of dwindling reserve accumulation, with a wide swathe of Asian, European and Latin American borrowers below the 1-year short-term debt coverage standard. Corporate hard-currency bonds outstanding are over $1 trillion and the previous tendency to issue 70 percent in local currency has eroded over time. Cross-border bank lending also hit $3 trillion in 2014 according to the BIS as non-EU groups replaced weak Eurozone providers with geographic and historic links. With almost $400 billion due in both categories through 2017 consumer and real estate firms without natural hedges are likely most vulnerable, but derivatives markets otherwise are thin with exceptions like Korea and Mexico. Secondary turnover is particularly lacking as US dealers alone slashed foreign bond inventory two-thirds due to post-crisis capital and proprietary dealing changes. Local currency corporate market-making is only $45 billion out of a universe of $5.5 trillion and many pension and insurance funds that own the paper are locked-in buyers anyway, the survey asserts. ETFs have expanded into the space to attract both retail and institutional investors, and their “herding behavior” and untested liquidity on large scale redemption could pose additional threats.

In Asia China is expected to further open the capital account to gain IMF SDR basket inclusion and foreign fund manager confidence, but Indonesia and Malaysia with 40 percent range overseas ownership of domestic government bonds may be under siege as India’s structural reform rollout leaves the one-year old Modi regime “better placed.”  Greek euro exit could taint the neighborhood, and Latin America is “still in the game” with even Argentina poised for a private capital turnaround with President Fernandez’s departure. The Middle East-Africa will be whipsawed by lower commodity values as Gulf foreign assets drop $100 billion to cap the cross-continent gusher.

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