Emerging markets rout deepens amid fears over Argentina and Turkey

Key Points
  • Emerging markets fall in early trading. Since Thursday through Tuesday's close, the EEM ETF fell more than 4 percent.
  • Argentina's economy has been mired by rampant inflation despite its central bank trying to curb it through rate hikes.
  • Turkey's economic troubles stem from rates being kept too low because of pressure from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
People change money at a currency exchange shop on August 14, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey.
Chris McGrath | Getty Images

Emerging-market stocks fell Wednesday as global investors fretted over the dire state of the Argentine and Turkish economies.

The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets exchange-traded fund (EEM) fell 1.4 percent. The fund has had a rough few days. Since Thursday, it was down 4.1 percent through Tuesday's close and down 10 percent for 2018.

Argentina's government asked the International Monetary Fund last week for an early release of funds from the nation's $50 billion standby financing deal, a move that surprised markets and put the peso under pressure. The Argentine peso fell to an all-time low of around 41 per U.S. dollar last week.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in a statement Tuesday the two sides have made progress and will be "working together to further strengthen the Argentine authorities' IMF-backed program."

The Argentine economy has been mired by a sharp increase in inflation. Through July, the country's inflation rate is up more than 30 percent on a year-over-year basis. Argentina's central bank has tried to keep inflation in check through rate hikes, but to no avail. Last week, they raised the overnight rate to 60 percent, the highest in the world.

Turkey's economic troubles have also pressured emerging-market stocks. The Turkish lira hit a record low against the dollar in August after President Donald Trump doubled tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports. It has lost at least 40 percent of its value against the dollar this year as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pressured the country's central bank to keep interest rates low.

The rising tensions between the U.S. and Turkey include Trump's demand that American pastor Andrew Brunson be freed by the Turkish government. Brunson was detained in 2016 after being charged with allegedly supporting an attempted coup that year.

The Turkish central bank vowed on Monday to contain the country's rampant inflation. "Recent developments regarding the inflation outlook indicate significant risks to price stability. The central bank will take the necessary actions to support price stability," the bank said. "(The) monetary stance will be adjusted at the September monetary policy committee meeting in view of the latest developments."

Emerging markets have also been under pressure lately as the U.S. Federal Reserve tightens monetary policy, which have partly boosted the dollar. The Fed has raised rates twice this year and is expected to hike again later this month.

"The EM contagion risk is front and center," said Mark Esposito, CEO of Esposito Securities. "If these countries can't pay their debts, that's not good." Esposito added: "I think the Fed is in a pretty precarious spot heading into the fourth quarter."

The Trump administration's protectionist trade policies have also sent shock waves through emerging markets as most of those economies are export-driven. Tighter trade conditions hurt such economies. The U.S. has slapped tariffs on goods from several countries, including key allies Mexico, China and Canada.

"For several months our view has been that it is the cumulative impact that matters when assessing the effect on EM economies and markets of tighter global liquidity conditions, the escalating trade conflict between the US and China, and crises in Argentina and Turkey," Jon Harrison, managing director of emerging-market macro strategy at TS Lombard, said in a note Wednesday. "These drivers are likely to intensify in the coming months."

The broad decline in emerging markets is also hitting Indonesia.

Indonesian stocks posted their worst day in nearly two years on Wednesday as its currency, the rupiah, traded near its lowest levels in about two decades. According to Moody's, Indonesia has about 41 percent of its government debt denominated in foreign currencies. The more the rupiah falls, the harder it will be for Indonesia to repay its debts.