The Global Financial Cycle and Emerging Market Economies

by Joseph Joyce

The Global Financial Cycle and Emerging Market Economies

The Federal Reserve’s latest increase in its policy rate is a signal of its desire to reestablish its credibility after U.S. inflation rose to 8.6% in May, and a precursor of more hikes.  Similar increases have been implemented by the Bank of England and the Swiss National Bank, and the European Central Bank has announced that an increase in its policy rate will occur in July.  These and other policy moves by central bankers indicate that we are in a new global financial cycle (GFC), which will have wide-ranging implications for emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs).

Maurice Obstfeld of UC-Berkeley and former chief economist of the IMF explains the linkages between monetary policy in advanced economies and economic activity in other countries in a Peterson Institute Working Paper, “The International Financial System after COVID-19.” Recent research has shown that U.S. financial conditions and Federal Reserve monetary policy, as well as conditions and policies in other advanced economies, affect asset prices, capital flows and commodity prices across a broad range of economies, evidence of a global financial cycle.

Researchers have devised measures of the cycle and studied its behavior. An index of global financial conditions shows a close correlation with output in the EMDEs. Part of this linkage is exerted via the dollar’s exchange rate, which appreciates in response to higher U.S. interest rates. Obstfeld lists several mechanisms that drive the relationship (see also here). He cites the impact of dollar appreciation on the tightening of trade finance credit, the role of the dollar as a safe haven during periods of heightened risk aversion, the contractionary impact of a stronger dollar on export demand when exports are denominated in dollars, a global decline in investment and a fall in real commodity prices. Exchange rate flexibility can mitigate the impact of shocks in the global financial cycle, but spillover effects are always present.

Obstfeld warns that higher interest rates in the advanced economies will affect the EMDEs. While the levels of government debt to GDP in many EMDEs are below those in most advanced economies, the rises in these ratios since the pandemic have been similar in magnitude. Refinancing will force these countries to deal with higher financing costs, and foreign-currency denominated debt adds another source of stress. Obstfeld cautions that one particular source of financial fragility is the concentration of sovereign debt on the balance sheets of banks in EMDEs.

An empirical assessment of the factors that drive capital flows to EMDEs is provided by Xichen Wang of the Chongqing Technology and Business University and Cheng Yan of the Essex Business School in their paper in the current IMF Economic Review, “Does the Relative Importance of the Push and Pull Factors of Foreign Capital Flows Vary Across Quantiles?  (working paper version here). They contrast the impact of “push” factors that are external to capital flow recipients and domestic “pull” factors on capital flows to 51 emerging markets. They use quantile analysis, which allows them to investigate the effect of the independent variables on different quantiles of the distribution of the dependent variable. The lower quantiles (such as the first 20%) are periods of relatively low capital flows, the median quantiles are tranquil and smooth periods, and the higher quantiles are periods of abundant capital financing.

The authors use several indicators of a GFC, including the U.S. 3-month Treasury bill rate deflated by U.S. inflation and the VIX index, which is based on the volatility of S&P 500 stock options. They also utiliized U. S. economic growth and average net capital flows to other countries in the region. For pull variables they utilized domestic variables, such as the domestic real interest rate, economic growth, public indebtedness, private credit expansion and the current account.

Wang and Yan’s results show that VIX and regional capital flows are highly significant for all the quantiles of gross capital inflows.  An increase in risk, as manifested in a rise in VIX, lowers capital flows to the emerging markets while an increase in capital flows to other countries in the region has a positive effect. Several of the domestic pull factors, such as economic growth and international reserves, are statistically significant at the lower quantiles, but their significance diminishes in the higher quantiles. Foreign investors pay attention to domestic conditions when capital flows are relatively limited.

The authors also present results for disaggregated capital flows (FDI, portfolio equity, portfolio debt, bank). The significance of VIX remains for all forms of capital, including FDI which is sometimes seen as less affected by global conditions. The domestic push factors are significant for the non-FDI flows at the lower quantiles, but not at the upper quantiles.

The authors conclude that policymakers need to pay attention to the manifestation of GFCs, as they can lead to a sudden fall in gross inflows. VIX has risen this year from 16.60 on January 3 to a high of 36.45 on March 7, and currently stands at 27.53. The nominal Treasury bill rate rose from 0.09% at the beginning pf the year and has risen to 1.59%.  But the rate of inflation rose from 7.5% to 8.6% over the same period, largely offsetting the rise in the nominal rate.

The World Bank has evaluated the prospects of the EMDES in the June edition of its Global Economic Prospects. They forecast a slowdown in economic growth in the EMDEs from 6.6% in 2021 to 3.4% this year, and warn that the war in Ukraine has increased the risk of a further negative adjustment. The World Bank also cites global financial conditions as a cause of concern:

“As global financing conditions tighten and currencies depreciate, debt distress—previously confined to low-income economies—is spreading to middle-income countries. The removal of monetary accommodation in the United States and other advanced economies, along with the ensuing increase in global borrowing costs, represents another significant headwind for the developing world.”

There is a well-established link, therefore, from monetary policies in the U.S. and other advanced economies to the rest of the global economy. As the Federal Reserve and its counterparts show their determination to face down inflation, they can trigger spillovers that exacerbate capital outflows from the EMDEs. The result will be a further deterioration in the economies of countries that have already endured a series of negative shocks.