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Emerging Currencies

Mexico Intervenes on Behalf of Peso

Most of the speculation in recent weeks concerning forex intervention has focused on Japan and Russia. The Central Bank of Mexico, meanwhile, has slipped quietly into forex markets to protect its battered Peso, which has fallen over 30% over the last six months. It's unclear whether Mexico's efforts, combined with support from the US, will be enough to stem further decline, considering that economic fundamentals continue to deteriorate. At the very least, the move serves as a symbolic warning to market bears, that the Central Bank is monitoring the situation, and is prepared to defend its currency accordingly.

Ruble to Continue Falling

The Russian Ruble is sliding faster and faster, having most recently reached a pace and level not seen since 1998, when Russia famously defaulted on its debt, and the currency lost more than half of its value in under a week. The Central Bank is keen to avoid a similar catastrophe this time around which is why it has diligently controlled the Ruble's descent, rather than allow the currency to reach an equilibrium in the spot market; such would likely result in a precipitous drop and perhaps a loss of confidence in the nation's banking system. Unfortunately, given the current m.o. of consistent but gradual devaluation, foreign investors are hesitant to own the Ruble, conscious of its inevitable decline.

Currency Options as Forex Strategy

A steady decline in risk aversion has taken place over the last few months, such that investors once again appear willing to own riskier assets, especially in the developing world. If this continues, increasing demand for emerging market assets would probably be accompanied by currency appreciation. While there are several ways that investors could conceivably profit from this trend, there is an overlooked strategy: currency options. Specifically, some traders have begun to write "out of the money" put options- the equivalent of selling insurance to investors that wish to protect themselves from further declines in emerging market currencies.

Emerging Market Currencies Continue to Slide

Despite a late 2008 rally on the basis of improved risk tolerance, the prospects for emerging market currencies remain grim. The decline in commodity prices have deprived many such countries, namely Russia and Venezuela, of much-need export revenue. Moreover, the credit crisis and consequent abatement in inflation paved the way for massive interest rate cuts, which made investing in emerging market securities much less attractive. Current-account balances have turned from surplus to deficit in a matter of months, and governments have turned to foreign lenders to make up the difference. Unfortunately, confidence in such currencies is still quite low, forcing governments to issue debt denominated in USD, rather than local currency.

Vietnam Dong Finally Devalued

The Central Bank of Vietnam finally acceded to reality and devalued its currency, the Vietnam Dong, by 3%. Prior to the change, the Dong (as well as its neighbor, the Chinese Yuan, which has also experienced a decline) was one of the few relative winners of the credit crisis. Perhaps this was because the currency had already depreciated significantly in recent years (35% since 1994), as well as because it remains fixed to the Dollar and hence it is impossible for the markets to short it when it becomes overvalued. Vietnam continues to be plagued by double-digit inflation and a surging current account imbalance, which suggest that the currency will probably have to suffer an additional 'correction' before reaching a sustainable level.

Rand Benefits from Carry Trade

Yesterday, the Forex Blog reported that the Yen could soon peak as a result of renewed interest in the carry trade. On the other side of this equation are emerging market currencies, most of which offer interest rates well above their industrialized counterparts. The spread between South Africa's benchmark interest rate and the rates of Switzerland, Japan, and the US, now exceeds 10%. As a result of near-zero rates in these countries, investors have once again taken to scouring the earth for yield. Apparently, government stimulus plans and monetary incentives have restored confidence in risk-taking. South Africa is especially poised to benefit, as it is one of the world's largest producers of gold, which recently resumed its upward trend. Bloomberg News reports:

Ruble to Depreciate Gradually

The perfect economic storm continues to brew in Russia; the financial crisis is sapping demand for Russian securities, and a decline in the price of oil (as well as other commodities) has turned the balance of trade from surplus to deficit. As a result, Russian banking officials seem resigned to a depreciation in the Ruble, but are understandably averse to a sudden devaluation, which could shock the economy into complete collapse. Nonetheless, in the last week, the currency recorded record drops as the Central Bank took advantage of Dollar weakness to adjust the band in which the Ruble is permitted to fluctuate (read: decline).

Emerging Markets Poised for Recovery?

In a recent interview, three emerging market fund managers aired a common view: the asset class which comprises emerging markets represents a solid investment. Their reasoning is that the tremendous declines wrought in emerging market equities and currencies over the last six months were caused primarily by technical factors, rather than a substantive change in the long-term economic picture. In other words, this drop was effected by foreign investors that withdrew money en masse from emerging markets in order to meet fund redemptions and repay loans denominated in Dollars. At the same time, economic analysis, as well as common sense, dictate that an increasing portion of future global growth will be realized in the developing world.

Central Europe Continues to Chase Euro

While the credit crisis has led some skeptics to presage the end of the European common currency, some in Central Europe are still eager to join it. However, their cause may have been jeopardized by the credit crisis. The economies of Poland, Hungary, and Czech Republic-the three most qualified candidates to join the Euro-have been plunged into turmoil. Capital flight has wrought precipitous declines in all of their respective currencies. In light of record volatility and continued bearish sentiment, some analysts have argued that the Euro represents the key to their salvation. The only problem is that the credit crisis is scrambling their ability to meet the necessary pre-requisites to membership.

Russian Ruble Declines with Price of Oil

Having already fallen 12% in 2008, the Russian Ruble is well on is way to fulfilling analysts' predictions that it will fall 30% before stabilizing against the US Dollar. While the credit crisis has not been kind to Russia, the Ruble is suffering more from a collapse in the price of oil, which recently slipped below $50 a barrel. For reference, the government needs the price of oil to stay above $70 in order to balance its budget.

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