Emerging market portfolio flows at weakest level

LONDON — Foreign investors in emerging market securities made net withdrawals for an unprecedented six consecutive months in the second half of 2015, resulting in the lowest annual level of portfolio flows since the height of the global financial crisis in 2008, according to estimates by the Institute of International Finance, an industry association. Total flows into EM bonds and equities were worth less than $41 billion in 2015, the IIF said, down from $291 billion in the previous year and an annual average of $276 billion from 2009 to 2014.

“What we have seen over the past half year was really remarkably weak,” said Robin Koepke, senior economist at the IIF. “Even in the global financial crisis we didn’t get six consecutive months of outflows.”

Combined outflows from EM debt and equities by foreign investors amounted to $46 billion in the second half of 2015 according to the IIF’s estimates, the first time flows had turned negative since 2008, when outflows for the year amounted to $99 billion.

The IIF said in a statement: “While many observers may see the beginning of the (US Federal Reserve’s) policy tightening cycle as the culprit for the recent retrenchment, domestic factors also seem to have contributed to reduced investor appetite for EM assets. A slowdown in growth . . . added to investor concerns, particularly against the backdrop of the commodity price slump.”

Outflows from EM equities were particularly heavy in the second half, at $31bn, while flows to EM debt turned positive in the last two months of the year, according to the IIF’s preliminary estimates.

About $5,3billion flowed into Brazil’s fixed-income markets in December alone to take advantage of very high interest rates, despite the country’s steep recession and deepening political crisis.

Koepke said flows were likely to turn positive during 2016 as overall EM economic growth picked up to 4,1 percent from an estimated 3,6 percent last year.

“It is not impressive for emerging markets but at least it is an improvement,” he said. He noted that four of the 30 countries tracked by the IIF – Russia, Ukraine, Brazil and Venezuela – were in recession in 2015 and said all except Venezuela would return to quarterly growth at some point this year.

Nervousness over the outlook for growth in China, heightened by its stock market turmoil in June and its unexpected currency devaluation in August, had been a driver of EM flow dynamics in 2015, he added.

The IIF expects China’s economy to grow 6,4 percent in 2016, down from an estimated 6,9 percent in 2015, Koepke said. “It’s not a hard landing but a continued slowing in growth that provides somewhat less support to the global economy than its strong growth contributions of the past decade,” he said. – Wires.

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