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Emerging Currencies

Indonesian Rupiah Faces Collapse

The economic situation in Indonesia is similiar to that of several other emerging market economies, characterized by falling export revenue, shrinking government coffers, and capital flight. The consequent decline in the Indonesia Rupiah has almost become self-fulfilling. In other words, as skittish investors rush to move their capital out of Indonesia for fear of complete collapse, they are simultaneously making such a collapse more likely. Indonesian policy-makers are conscious of this tendency of nervousness to feed back into itself, and are delicately trying to avoid shocking the markets. On the one hand, they want to limit the decline of the Rupiah.

Currency Pegs back in Style

Having endured years of abuse from free-market advocates and the International Monetary Fund, fixed exchange rate regimes are officially back in vogue. This is because the sole currencies not to have been affected by the recent surge in forex volatility are those that are pegged to the US Dollar, namely the Chinese Yuan and Hong Kong Dollar. Both countries have stood by calmly as other emerging market economies have witnessed speculators lay waste to their currencies, driving them down by 5% or more per day. Fortunately, both HK and China have significant stockpiles of foreign exchange reserves, which virtually eliminates any possibility of a speculative attack. Iceland, meanwhile, was forced to abandon a half-hearted attempt at a currency peg when it ran out of cash to defend it.

Russia to Devalue Ruble

Russia is currently facing its worst currency crisis since 1998, when it defaulted on its debt and the Ruble plunged 71% against the Dollar. This time around, Russia is being attacked on two fronts: the sell-off in emerging markets and the collapse in the price of oil. Both trends occurred suddenly and with such force that the economy swung from current account surplus to deficit in a matter of months. Meanwhile, the Central Bank of Russia has spent nearly 1/5 of its $500 Billion in forex reserves to slow the proportional decline in its currency. If the price of oil and the stock market continue to decline in tandem, the Central Bank will no doubt find it increasingly difficult to defend the currency, and a massive devaluation would inevitably follow.

Forex Volatility Destabilizes Global Economy

Volatility in forex markets has surged to unprecedented levels. In the words of one analyst, "Moves in the currency markets witnessed during just a few hours of trading...'are typically what we see in a quarter.' " The currencies of both emerging market countries and industrialized nations have been battered indiscriminately, as investors have fled to locations perceived as less risky, namely the US and Japan. On the one hand, a stronger Dollar has almost completely alleviated inflation in the US and will hence make it easier for the Fed to continue cutting interest rates. On the other hand, US exports, previously one of the few bright spots in the sagging economy, will become less competitive.

Brazil Aims to Prop Up Real

In a bold but perhaps necessary move, the Central Bank of Brazil recently announced an injection of $50 Billion into forex markets intended to stem the 30% fall in the value of the Brazilian Real that has taken place so far this year. Unfortunately for Brazil, the forces tugging on emerging market currencies far exceed the potential counter-efforts that such a country is capable of waging. Call it a lack of confidence, or a sudden aversion to risk. Either way, investors are fleeing regions that only months ago, they were still flocking to in droves. High interest rates, strong economic fundamentals, even capital injections and liquidity initiatives are no match for the financial tsunami.

Emerging Markets Currencies Hurt by Derivatives

Emerging Market currencies are becoming the latest victims of financial derivatives, proving Warren Buffet's claim that such contracts represent "financial weapons of mass destruction." Apparently, companies throughout the developing world (although predominantly in Latin America) had used derivatives to bet on the strength of their home currencies, relative to the US Dollar. Given their record appreciation over the preceding few years, such bets probably appeared risk-less. As investors have fled emerging markets en masse, however, such currencies have tumbled. This has forced companies that had bet against the Dollar to rapidly unwind their derivative positions, which only caused their currencies to decline further.

Emerging Markets Turn to IMF

The credit crisis has not been kind to emerging market currencies. Virtually all of them have declined by double digits (in percentage terms) against the USD. Such currencies may receive a boost from the International Monetary Fund, which recently announced plans to make more cash available, especially on a short-term basis. Previously, many analysts and policymakers had written off the IMF as irrelevant, since private sources of capital had gradually become available to countries that previously depended on the IMF for funding. However, as investors flee emerging markets en masse, such countries once again find themselves in dire straits.

Korean Won Pares Losses

It seems the Korean Won has (temporarily) bottomed out, reversing one of the largest declines in its history. The currency's 5% daily jump has made it one of one of the few bright spots in Asia this week, where stock markets and currencies collapsed due to a complete lack of confidence. Analysts attribute the jump to a rumor that Korean regulators are trying to ferret out speculators, who are believed to have driven the Won down over the last few months. As a result, a sudden surge of foreign capital poured into Korea, as investors returned with renewed vigor, confident that the Korean government is prepared to deal domestically with the crisis that is gripping global financial markets. Bloomberg News reports:

Asian Forex Reserves Plummet

Developing countries (in Asia) responded to the 1997 financial crisis by prudently building up massive stocks of foreign exchange reserves to mitigate the risk of another crisis. In August, the reserves of eight of these countries (excluding China and Japan) promptly fell by a combined $36 Billion, setting a monthly record in the process. The flow of capital into the developing world has gradually reversed itself over the last year, as investors have fled emerging markets as part of a broad strategy to limit exposure to risk. Central Banks have responded by using their reserves as a means to restoring confidence and to propping up their respective currencies.

SA Rand Latest Victim of Credit Crisis

Over the last two months, the South African Rand has plummeted, losing nearly 20% of its value against the US Dollar en route to a five-year low. It seems the currency has become the latest victim of the credit crisis and the resulting widespread risk aversion. The sudden exodus away from the carry trade, for example, has affected the Rand disproportionately, as many foreign investors had come to South Africa over the last few years to take advantage of the country's 12% interest rate. Now, the country is facing a horrible crisis, and is worrying about its ability to finance its current account deficit, which already exceeds 7% of GDP. Accordingly, analysts predict the Rand will continue to drop. Bloomberg News reports:

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