Emerging currencies just off highs

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Graphic: Renjith Krishnan.

London - Emerging currencies held near multi-week highs to the dollar on Thursday, buoyed by Chinese stimulus hopes and stable US yields, while Ukrainian bond prices surged to two-month highs on news of a $14-$18 billion IMF loan.

Russian stocks and the rouble, however, ended a three-day rally after US President Barack Obama appeared to toughen his stance over Moscow's annexation of Crimea, and Russia's economy minister said 2014 growth could be close to zero.

While most emerging currencies weakened slightly, they clung to gains posted this week, as US five- and 10-year yields slipped and a series of weak Chinese data gave rise to hopes Beijing will loosen monetary or fiscal policy slightly.

Rumours of a cut in Chinese reserve ratios had boosted Shanghai markets, though the gains fizzled late in the session .

“Emerging FX is showing most impressive resilience. There are a number of cross-currents at play here - hopes of Chinese stimulus, better EM current account data and possibly better valuations,” said Manik Narain, a strategist at UBS.

“The price action suggests a lot of investors are taking the view EM has already adjusted a lot and repriced enough.”

In markets such as India and Indonesia moves are being driven by stock market flows.

Indian stocks hit a record high for the fourth straight day, with foreigners having bought $2.5 billion worth of equities this month. The rupee was flat after hitting eight-month highs on Wednesday.

In Turkey, the lira slipped half a percent but stayed just off two-week highs, hit after a 4.6 percent jump in the stock market on Wednesday.

Gains were led by banks after the central bank said it could pay interest on banks' lira reserve deposits. Istanbul's banking index jumped to a new 2-1/2 month high.

“The implication is that it could have a 2-3 percent impact on banks' profitability which has led to an equity rally,” Narain said.

The South African rand firmed 0.2 percent, close to a one-week high.

The central bank is expected to hold interest rates steady at a policy meeting on Thursday, though interest rate swaps are pricing a small chance of a rate hike.

Broader emerging equities rose slightly to touch two-week highs.

In bond markets, Ukraine's dollar debt spreads over US Treasuries narrowed 21 basis points after the International Monetary Fund said it had approved a $14-$18 standby loan for Kiev.

Ukraine agreed to tough economic reforms as a condition of the loan.

That pushed up bond prices 1-2 points across the curve while debt insurance costs plunged 85 bps to two-month lows, Markit data showed.

“A $14-18 billion number is positive and that will unlock further support from the EU. We had estimated they needed $20-25 billion in support and this will cover it,” William Jackson at Capital Economics said.

The weak link however was Russia, where stocks fell 1 percent, taking the edge off the rally that started last week, while the rouble eased 0.2 percent off one-month highs to the dollar.

The United States and the European Union agreed at a summit in Brussels on Wednesday to work on possible harsher economic sanctions against Moscow.

Obama said Russian President Vladimir Putin had miscalculated if he thought he could divide the West.

“Another tough tirade (by Obama) about the annexation of Crimea will make European and Russian investors think about geopolitics and the risks associated with it,” Anastasia Sosnova, analyst at Rossiyski Capital, said in a note. - Reuters


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