The recent surge in commodity prices has amplified the acceleration in inflation that we have been seeing globally, arising from disruption to global supply chains caused by the pandemic. Expectations just a few months ago were that the drivers of inflation would be transient, but inflation now looks likely to remain higher, for longer, despite the squeeze in real income and economic activity.
An interesting observation is the difference between developed and emerging markets regarding both the impact and response to inflation. Developed market central banks have spent the last decade struggling to bring inflation up to target, while emerging market central banks have mostly continued their long-term drive to bring inflation down. The recent period, unusually, has been characterised by EM inflation being relatively more contained than that of developed markets (DM), as shown in the chart below.
EM inflation has risen by less than US inflation
Core inflation (year-on-year %)
As at 30 April 2022. EM inflation is weighted by the JPMorgan GBI-EM Global Diversified index weights. US inflation is based on CPI Urban Consumers less food and energy index. Core inflation is the change in prices of goods and services, except for those from the food and energy sectors. Source: Bloomberg
We see two key reasons for this. Firstly, because EM countries are facing a weaker economic recovery, and secondly, because EM central banks have
been more proactive in raising interest rates.
EM still facing a weak economic recovery
EM countries, along with DM, have seen sharp contractions in gross domestic product (GDP) brought about by the pandemic, which in turn have left large output gaps (the difference between actual GDP and potential GDP). Moreover, the EM recovery has significantly lagged that of DM, partly due to less fiscal spending and lower COVID vaccination rates. Weak economic recovery/output gaps are typically associated with lower inflation rates.
EM policy makers started rates hiking earlier than DM central banks
On average, EM central banks have been proactive in hiking rates relative to DM central banks – despite weak domestic conditions. This is for a number of reasons.
- The rise in commodity prices hits some EM countries harder than DM
While inflation impacts consumers across the globe, the recent surge in commodity prices is having a major impact on many EM countries. Food prices, in particular, have accelerated, given that both Russia and Ukraine are major food commodity exporters, globally. Food is the single largest component of inflation baskets in many EM countries. Some EM countries particularly in Latin America, however, have been somewhat shielded from the rise in global food prices as they produce much of their food locally and in some cases are less dependent on wheat/grain.
- EM central banks have to work harder at proving their credibility and to avoid inflation expectations becoming entrenched
Although many of the causes of inflation could appear to be transitory (food, energy, supply shortages from the pandemic, etc.), once inflation starts to filter down to other areas, inflation expectations rise and behaviour changes. In EM countries, this can happen more quickly compared to in DM as most EM countries do not have a history of low inflation.
- EM central banks are used to inflation cycles and so policy makers can use interest rates more fully to address inflation challenges
The fact that most EM central banks did not carry out quantitative easing during the pandemic means that EM central banks can use interest rates more fully to address inflation challenges, unlike DM central banks
- Higher interest rates help protect EM countries against capital outflows as the Fed starts to raise rates
EM countries often suffer from capital outflows during periods of rising US interest rates because higher US rates generally mean a narrower interest rate differential with EM, reducing the compensation investors receive for EM country risk. As such, EM central banks need to be ahead of the curve with raising interest rates in anticipation of Federal Reserve (Fed) action.
Proactive EM central banks have led to higher real yield differentials
The acceleration of rate hikes by EM central banks has driven up nominal and real interest rate differentials between EM and the US, as shown in the chart below and EM real yields are now mostly positive across EM.
EM real yield differential rising
EM real yields minus US real yields
Past results are not a guarantee of future results.
As at 26 April 2022. EM yields calculated using JPMorgan Government Bond Index-Emerging Markets Broad Indices. US yield is the Bloomberg generic 5-year index. Inflation is core CPI for the individual countries. Sources: Bloomberg and Capital Group calculations
Real yields are mostly positive across EM
EM real yields
As at 26 April 2022. ZA = South Africa, ID = Indonesia, CO = Colombia, PE = Peru, BZ = Brazil, MY = Malaysia, MX = Mexico, CN = China, RO = Romania, TH = Thailand, UY = Uruguay, PH = Philippines, DR = Dominican Republic, PL = Poland, CL = Chile, HU = Hungary, CZ = Czech Republic, US = United States, DE = Germany. Source: Bloomberg
We believe that most EM countries are in a relatively strong position to face any upcoming challenges, in light of mostly solid fundamentals. EM local currency debt looks attractive with high real yield differentials. Given the starting point for EM exchange rates and the likely decent growth outcomes for most EMs, we think EM foreign exchange should be a positive contributor to total returns this year.