The post-holiday Australian share market got a taste of the panicked selling gripping global markets over the past few days.
Currency values are continuing to collapse in those economies that have driven much of the world’s growth since the global financial crisis.
The situation is expected to worsen if the US Federal Reserve decides to further reduce its economic stimulus program later this week.
The local share market was closed for the Australia Day holiday yesterday, so it missed out on the wave off sell-offs that passed through markets in Asia, Europe and the US, but it has been a different story today.
Savanth Sebastian from CommSec watched the Australian market drop at the open.
“Really it comes down to the fact that we’ve had a couple of trading sessions on global markets which have been of a weaker note,” he said.
“We’ve seen that even overnight European shares fell again, hitting their lowest levels in a month.”
The All Ordinaries index was down by more than 1 per cent all morning, before briefly bouncing back slightly, and then falling again.
There are a few explanations for investors selling their shares and looking for safer investments in recent days – negative economic signs from China, and concerns about collapsing currency values in emerging economies.
The currencies of Argentina, Turkey, Russia and South Africa have been hit particularly hard.
“In addition you’ve got the Federal Reserve in the US meeting later this week to decide on how quickly to pare back its stimulus policy, and that’s causing a bit of uncertainty for investors as well,” Mr Sebastian said.
However, he thinks the sell-off is unlikely to persist.
“It looks very likely that it is a short-term sell-off and modest correction. I think there will be some opportunity for investors that have been holding out of the market to look at buying up some cheaply valued stock,” Mr Sebastian added.
Symptoms of a deeper disease
Financial analyst Satyajit Das disagrees, and sees what is happening on the markets as a symptom of problems plaguing the global economy since the beginning of the global financial crisis.
“The real issue is the emerging markets, to some extent, have been held up by a massive flow of money, which came out of the developed world – partly because of the fears of meltdown in developed markets, but also because of the policies, particularly the policy of quantitative easing, which led to abundant liquidity – much of which founds its way into the emerging markets,” he argued.
“Now the question is whether that liquidity firstly goes home and, secondly, what the impact of that will be, because that’s covered up a lot of structural issues that remain rather unresolved in emerging markets.”
Mr Das says there is a chance the recovery in developed economies will be strong enough to offset the loss of investment in developing nations, but he is not convinced.
“Fundamentally, if that money goes home, then the developed markets might be doing better and, if the developed markets are doing better, then that would obviously have beneficial effects for emerging markets, which are still tightly coupled to exporting to these markets,” he explained.
“However, in the short run, what will happen is the actual flow of liquidity out of emerging markets will expose the fact that these markets are heavily dependent on, number one, foreign capital, and much of what was called the ‘boom’ in emerging markets may be just the effect of short-term capital flows and particularly the effect of lower interest rates.”
In other words, once the cheap cash that enabled the public and private sectors in emerging economies load up on debt dries up, those countries could be left with serious problems.
The US Federal Reserve’s economic stimulus program has provided most of that cash by printing around $US85 billion each month to fund bond purchases.
That amount was cut by $US10 billion, effective this month, and there is a fair chance the stimulus tap could tightened for a second time when the Fed meets this week.
Satyajit Das thinks it could result in a situation not unlike the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, only spread across several continents.
“The defaults will weaken potentially the banking systems in some of these countries, which will then need to be bailed out by governments or supported in some way,” he forecast.
“And so it will be a very classic emerging market crisis, which will be obviously compounded by weaker currencies, and where some of these countries have borrowed in foreign currencies, the increase in the amount of that debt as a result of the currency devaluation will also lead to things like credit downgrades and much heavier exposure to foreign exchange losses.”