lunes, 29 de septiembre de 2014

Ouch: the peso returns to beginning of year highs...

The fix rate peso jumped to $13.49 today, matching its January 24 high for the year. The  monthly fix rate averaged $13.23 with just a day left in September, in line with its first quarter average. Just two months ago, in July, the fix rate averaged $12.98. What's going on?

The explanation undoubtedly lies in portfolio investment flows and the impact of a stronger dollar on the attractiveness of carry trade investments. The carry trade entails borrowing in a strong currency (like the dollar) and investing the proceeds of the loan in bonds in a weaker currency (like the peso) that pay a higher interest rate than that charged on the dollar loan. So long as the dollar doesn't strengthen (or, the flip side, the peso doesn't weaken), investors reap the yield differential. If the dollar weakens (or the peso strengthens), the currency losses can swamp the gains from the interest rate differential.

The size of the carry trade in emerging markets isn't really known. However, one estimate puts it at a very hefty US$2 trillion. The Bank for International Settlements indicates that foreign ownership of emerging markets' debt rose from 8% in 2007 to 17% in 2012.

Mexico was an early beneficiary of carry trade inflows. The relative size and depth of its bond markets mean that peso-denominated bonds remain an important destination for foreign investors. In Mexico, along with Poland, Hungary and Indonesia, foreign investors hold 35% or more of government bonds.

The strength of the dollar translates into weaker currencies around the world, including the peso. Today's Financial Times presents three reasons why the dollar will remain strong: the recovery of the US economy, the end of QE, and the ECB's adherence to a more dovish monetary policy. (See the complete article at http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/27a516d8-47e4-11e4-be7b-00144feab7de.html#axzz3EjWzUWOC)

Unless peso interest rates rise or the peso strengthens, portfolio investment is not likely to flow into Mexico in the massive quantities we saw in 2011 and 2012.

lunes, 15 de septiembre de 2014

Mexico exports terrorists?

There are people in the US who believe that ISIS (or ISIL, aka Islamic State) terrorists are about to or have infiltrated the US from Mexico, amongst them Texas Governor Rick Perry. The Department of Homeland Security isn't amongst them.

For the story, see http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/16/us/us-pushes-back-against-warnings-that-isis-plans-to-enter-from-mexico.html?emc=edit_tnt_20140915&nlid=20064986&tntemail0=y&_r=0

miércoles, 3 de septiembre de 2014

All in favor of borrowing abroad...


Mexico’s net foreign debt rose US$22.3 billion in the first half of 2014. The 56.3% increase over the same period of 2013 was thanks to the enormous jump in net indebtedness that occurred in the second quarter. In the second quarter of this year, Mexico borrowed abroad (net) US$20.5 billion, a sharp contrast to the (net) repayment of US$4.5 billion in the second quarter of 2013.

Public sector borrowing drove the jump in foreign debt. The net public sector foreign debt crept up US$0.1 billion in the first half of 2013. In the first half of 2014, it soared US$12.6 billion. Borrowing by the non-banking public sector drove the jump. Development banks’ net borrowing was imperceptible. Public sector companies took on US$12.5 billion in the first six months of 2014; in the first six months of 2013, their net borrowing inched up US$0.7 billion.

The private sector continued to borrow abroad in the first six months of this year but at a slower pace: the US$9.8 billion net increase was 31.0% less than in the first half of 2013. Companies and banks’ net foreign debt in the first half of 2014 rose, respectively, by US$5.6 billion (30.0% more than in the first six months of 2013) and US$4.2 billion (57.6% less). 

martes, 2 de septiembre de 2014

Some foreign investors returned to Mexico in the second quarter...


Foreign direct investment (FDI) in the first half of this year totaled US$9.7 billion, slightly more than half the amount of portfolio investment and just a third of its level in the first six months of 2013. Europe supplanted the US as the principal sources of FDI in the first half of this year, with 26.1% of the total coming from Spain, 20.1% from the Netherlands, and 13.0% from Belgium. Only a tenth came from the US while Japan, Canada, and Germany were the sources, respectively, of 7.2%, 4.9% and 3.9% of the total. Most of FDI (71.8%) in the first six months of 2014 went into manufacturing. Financial services attracted a fifth of the total and the remaining 7.9%, into all other sectors. 

FDI totaled US$20.2 billion in the second quarter of last year; in this year's second quarter, FDI was just US$2.3 billion. Obviously the AB INBev/Modelo transaction swelled last year’s number. However, a very unusual occurrence also affected FDI in this year’s second quarter: new investments were negative. Reinvested profits totaled US$4.0 billion in Q2 2014 while net liabilities with parent companies rose US$1.4 billion, offsetting the US$3.2 billion reduction in new investments. (There is an outflow of the same amount registered in the current account for reinvested profits. Neither new investments nor changes in inter-company liabilities have a current account counterpart.)

Portfolio investment in the first half of this year was US$18.2 billion, nearly three times its level in the first half of 2013 when the “taper tantrum” hit portfolio investment in emerging markets in the second quarter. The big change was in foreign investment in equities, which constituted a whopping 35.9% of portfolio investment in the first half of the year. The US$6.6 billion of foreign investment in equities really occurred in the second quarter; only US$0.3 billion flowed in during the first. It’s a sea change from the first half of last year, when foreigners cut their investments in Mexican equities by US$4.9 billion. Foreign investment in money market instruments was US$11.7 billion, 5.5% above its level in the first half of 2013. 

jueves, 14 de agosto de 2014

Whew! An inflow into high yield bond funds

Reports say investors put US$0.68 billion into high yield bond funds in the week ending August 13. That's a welcome relief after the US$7.1 billion outflow of the prior week.

Meanwhile, though, other worrying trends in the financial markets have Fed officials and bankers on edge. Liquidity is not as abundant in the "repo" market as it was. "Repos" are repurchase agreements in which borrowers sell government bonds (principally) for cash to a third party at the same time they promise to repurchase the bonds at a slightly higher rate in the future.

That some banks are reported to be reducing their role as middlemen in the repo market is important because financial institutions like banks and hedge funds use repos for funding. Repo markets froze up in the 2008 crisis, threatening the international financial system.

No one is suggesting that repo markets are on the verge of a 2008-style seizure. However, two Fed regional presidents  expressed their concern about repo markets this week. 

viernes, 8 de agosto de 2014

Investors pulling out of junk bonds...

In the week ended August 6, investors yanked a record US$7.1 billion out of junk bond funds, the Wall Street Journal reports. The prior record of US$4.6 billion was set in June 2013. The week ending August 6 was the fourth straight week in which investors cut their holdings in junk bond funds and a marked contrast to steady inflows early in the second quarter.

At the same time, yields on US treasuries have been declining.

The funds flows out of junk bonds are another reason to believe that portfolio investment flows are behind the recent depreciation of the peso.


viernes, 1 de agosto de 2014

Why has the peso jumped? There's Argentina...


On August 1, the International Swaps and Derivative Association (ISDA) “resolved that a failure to pay credit event occurred in respect of the Argentine Republic”. What does that mean? It means that any institution holding a credit default swap (CDS) insuring against a default by Argentina can collect. 

CDS are written by private parties. Banks and insurance companies (remember AIG?) developed a lucrative fee-generating business line by writing CDS. The notional value of the CDS written can -- and often does -- far exceed the nominal value of the debt being covered by the CDS. Estimates of the value of the CDS written on the defaulted bond issue are not widely known, if they are known with any exactitude.

By triggering the right to collect, the ISDA resolution opens up a can of worms. Over the coming days, we'll see how much exposure to the Argentine default there really is in the international financial system and which financial institutions are most heavily exposed. The issue isn't really who holds the actual bonds. It's which institutions bet that Argentina wouldn't default and they value of the CDS they wrote  based on that belief. 

The background:

Argentina entered into a technical default when it failed to make a debt payment to foreign creditors on June 30. The technical default became a real one a month later. It’s not that the country didn’t have the money to make the payment or even that it didn’t want to pay. The funds are sitting in a US bank awaiting transfer.

The situation is the consequence of a June 16 US Supreme Court’ decision that it would not accept an appeal of lower court rulings requiring Argentina to pay bondholders who refused to participate when the country restructured its debt earlier this decade as well as the holders of the restructured bonds. The US Supreme Court ruling also upholds lower court decisions that permit bondholders to issue subpoenas to banks to trace assets held abroad by Argentina.

The rulings are a major victory for those “vulture investors” who often bought the bonds at discounted rates in the secondary market and turned to the courts to enforce their right to payment in full. Be that as it may, the rulings will greatly complicate any future debt restructurings since the rewards for holding out have just soared.