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Emerging markets sell-off on Trump election has further to go, Citi warns

The "Trump Tantrum" spurring a sell-off in emerging market bonds and currencies since businessman Donald Trump's surprise election win won't end soon, analysts said.

Citi analysts expected the meltdown in emerging market assets and currencies had further to run, based on comparisons with the 2013-2014 "taper tantrum," when the U.S. Federal Reserve first broached the idea that it would taper its asset purchases, which spurred massive outflows from emerging markets.

Citi forecast in a Tuesday research note that emerging market credit spreads could widen by a further 30-40 basis points. A credit spread is the difference between the yield on a Treasury and a bond of the same maturity but offering less security.

Citi's analysis indicated that although the price of 10-year Treasurys decreased by a roughly similar amount after the taper and Trump tantrums, emerging market debt prices have not yet moved by as much following Trump's shock election.

The bank's analysts noted that during the taper tantrum, 10-year U.S. Treasurys sold off by 79 basis points, compared with the post-election 65 basis-point sell-off. But the CDX, or credit default swap index, emerging market spreads widened by 143 basis points during the taper tantrum, compared with just 39 basis points during the Trump Tantrum.

"We believe market volatility is likely to remain high given potential pressure on U.S. Treasurys and uncertainty over future policy," the analysts said.

Citi expected a Trump administration would pursue more fiscal spending, implying higher U.S. interest rates, higher inflation and a stronger dollar.

"In this environment, emerging market credit would struggle to find sponsorship," Citi said. "Another important complication is Trump's unfriendly trade policies that if implemented could impact FDI (foreign direct investment) flows into the already fragile emerging market economies."

That means that emerging-market bond prices would likely fall further, implying that borrowers in those countries would need to pay higher interest rates to attract investors. Bond prices move inversely to yields.

The market moves since the election upset have been stark.

The Dow Jones industrial average notched up a seven-day winning streak on Tuesday, closing at a fresh record high. The stock rally came as U.S. Treasurys sold off, sending the yield on the benchmark 10-year to touch its highest level since late December. The benchmark yield touched levels above 2.3 percent on Tuesday in the U.S., up from levels below 1.8 percent in the days before the election.

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The dollar index, which measures the dollar against a basket of currencies, was at 100.07 at 8:49 a.m. HK/SIN on Wednesday, up from levels below 97 prior to the U.S. election.

But emerging market assets have tumbled, hit both by the stronger dollar and higher Treasury yields in the U.S., which hurt emerging-market companies' ability to service dollar-denominated debt and spurred outflows from the segment on the prospect of higher, less-risky returns on Treasurys.

Investors have certainly been voting with their feet.

Since the November 8 election, data from the Institute of International Finance showed foreigners pulled nearly $6 billion from just eight emerging-market countries, evenly spread between debt and equity. The countries included in the sample were India, Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, South Africa, Brazil and Hungary.

Indonesia and Malaysia were particularly hard-hit.

This week, Indonesia's rupiah tumbled to touch its lowest since June, hurting local stocks.

Since the election, Malaysia's ringgit also fell to its lowest against the dollar since January, near levels not seen since the Asian Financial Crisis in 1998.

At 9:45 a.m. HK/SIN, the dollar was fetching 13,345 rupiah, compared with levels around 13,060 rupiah in the days before the election, while the ringgit was at 4.3350 against the greenback, compared with levels below 4.20 in the lead up to the election.

There could be more pain ahead for the two Southeast Asian countries.

In a note on Monday, Nomura pointed to the two countries facing twin threats from high foreign-investor ownership of bonds and upcoming bond maturities.

In October, foreign ownership of Indonesian and Malaysia bonds and bills was near record highs of $52.2 billion and $52.8 billion, respectively, both representing more than 36 percent of outstanding debt, Nomura noted.

At the same time, around $2.5 billion of Malaysian government investment issue (MGII) matured this week, while more than $1 billion of Indonesian government debt would mature in November, it noted.

To be sure, investors don't need to wait for a bond to mature to exit the asset via the market, but there is a possibility that foreign investors might decide to skip reinvesting proceeds.

That, coupled with concerns over policymakers' efforts to stabilize the two countries' currencies, could spur further outflows, Nomura said.

"We see risks that the macroprudential measures implemented to restrict or make it more difficult to divest from a country's local assets could hasten the exodus by foreign and local investors and harm future foreign portfolio investment," it said.

But some see signs that the selloff might be running its course.

Sim Moh Siong, a foreign exchange strategist at the Bank of Singapore, told CNBC's "Capital Connection" on Tuesday that he expected currencies in Indonesia and Malaysia to stabilize.

"It's been crazy over the last few days, but I think some sanity is coming back in the market," Sim said.

But he expected the market would remain nervous as the stability was partly due to the high cost of running a short position in either Indonesia's rupiah or Malaysia's ringgit. Both countries' central banks were also intervening in the market to support their currencies, he noted.

But Sim remained cautious, particularly on Malaysia.

"There's also concern about the ringgit as a trade-exposed currency. And if Trump does carry out his trade protectionism threat, this could be bad for the ringgit," he noted.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1

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