Global Volatility, Domestic Markets

Unlike the global financial crisis of 2008-09, the current disruption in the financial markets of emerging market nations was anticipated. The “taper tantrum” of 2013 revealed the precarious position of many of these nations, particularly those dependent on commodity exports. The combination of a slowdown in Chinese growth, collapsing stock prices and a change in the Chinese central bank’s exchange rate policy indicated that the world’s second-largest economy has its own set of problems. But global volatility itself can roil financial markets, and good fundamentals may be of little help for a government trying to shelter its economy from the instability in world markets.

The importance of global (or “push”) factors for capital flows to emerging markets was studied by Eugenio Cerutti, Stijn Claessens and Damien Puy of the IMF. They looked at capital flows to 34 emerging markets during the period of 2001-2013, and found that global factors such as the VIX, a measure of anticipated volatility in the U.S. stock market, accounted for much of the variation in flows. Not all forms of capital were equally affected: bank-related and portfolio flows (bonds and equity) were strongly influenced by the global factors, but foreign direct investment was not.

Cerutti, Claessens and Puy also investigated whether the emerging markets could insulate themselves from the global environment with good domestic macro fundamentals. They reported that the sensitivity of emerging markets to the external factors depended in large part upon the identity of a country’s investors. The presence of global investors, such as international mutual funds in the case of portfolio flows and global banks in the case of bank finance, drove up the response to the global environment. The authors concluded: “…there is no robust evidence that “good” macroeconomic (e.g., public debt, growth) or institutional fundamentals (e.g., Investment Climate and Rule of Law) have a role in explaining EM different sensitivities to global push factors.”

A similar finding was reported in a study of corporate bond markets in emerging markets, which have grown considerably since the 2007-09 crisis. Diana Ayala, Milan Nedeljkovic and Christian Saborowski, also of the IMF, studied the share of bond finance in total corporate debt in 47 emerging market economies over the period of 2000-13. Domestic factors contributed to the development of bond markets. But the growth in these markets in the post-crisis period was driven by global factors, such as the spread in U.S. high yield bonds, a proxy for global risk aversion, and U.S. broker-dealer leverage. The authors conjecture that the growth in bond finance in the emerging markets was due to a search for higher yields than those available in advanced economies during this period. If this interpretation is correct, then these countries will see capital outflows once interest rates in the U.S. and elsewhere rise.

A third paper from the IMF, written by Christian Ebeke and Annette Kyobe, looked at the markets for emerging market sovereign bonds. Their results are based on data from 17 emerging markets over the 2004-13 period. They found that foreign participation in the market for domestic-currency denominated sovereign bonds increased the impact of U.S. interest rates on the yield of these bonds once a threshold of 30 percent had been reached. Similarly, an increase in the concentration of the investor base made the bond yields more sensitive to global financial shocks.

Are domestic “pull” factors always irrelevant for capital flows? Ahmed Shaghil, Brahima Coulibaly and Andrei Zlate of the Federal Reserve Board constructed a “vulnerability index” of macroeconomic fundamentals for a sample of 20 emerging market economies during 13 periods of financial stress, beginning with the Mexican crisis of 1994 and ending with the 2013 taper tantrum. They looked at the impact of their index upon a measure of depreciation pressure, based on changes in exchange rates and losses in foreign exchange reserves. They found that there was evidence of a linkage between the macro fundamentals and depreciation pressure during the global financial crisis and then again during the European sovereign debt crisis and the taper tantrum, but not before.

Why would the response of emerging market economies to domestic fundamentals become stronger during the most recent crises? Shaghil, Coulibaly and Zlate offer two reasons: first, it may be that foreign investors did not distinguish among the emerging market economies until the 2000s. But as the governments of these countries implemented different policy frameworks and the costs of gathering information about them fell due to technology, it became worthwhile to distinguish amongst them based on their individual characteristics. An alternative reason for the change over time could lie in a shift in the origin of the crises away from the emerging markets themselves. Therefore, investors have become more careful in examining the vulnerabilities of individual countries.

The analysis of the relative importance of domestic “pull” vs. global “push” factors should not be posed as a “one or the other” contest (see here). There is ample evidence to indicate that global factors have become increasingly important in driving capital flows across borders. If so, then the news that the VIX hit record levels last week is disturbing. Stock markets in the U.S. and other advanced economies have rebounded, but the emerging market nations face a period of sustained retrenchment as investors reallocate their funds in response to the surge in global volatility.