Bleeding Forex Reserves: Russia & the 'Fragile Five'

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,,,, at 1/19/2015 01:30:00 AM
The 90s "connected" developing countries through contagion . How about now?
Whether through coincidence or not, this article on developing countries quickly losing foreign exchange reserves from the Nikkei Asian Review--fast becoming my Asian periodical of choice after the demise of the late, lamented Far Eastern Economic Review--comes from an issue whose cover story is..."Living With Terror"[!] Having been a onetime foreign exchange trader during the height of the Asian financial crisis in a crisis-affected nation, I can sympathize with the feeling of being subject to fear-inspiring events I'd much rather avoid.

But the day of reckoning has come for these nations--again for a handful like Brazil, Indonesia, Russia and Thailand that were particularly hard-hit by the events near the turn of the millennium. There's an unmistakeable sense of deja vu for developing countries. Like in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis, commodity exporters are taking it on the chin as the world economy slows down while the US seemingly does better. The combination of a developing world slowdown and dollar strength was bad then and is ominous now. A surefire sign of distress is of the aforementioned developing countries drawing down foreign exchange reserves to defend their currencies from further depreciation (the opposite of the Swiss situation in which excessive strength is the problem):
The foreign currency reserves of Brazil, Russia and four other big emerging countries fell 6% in the second half of 2014 from the preceding six months. The fall came as the countries' monetary authorities attempted to defend their home currencies in the foreign exchange market.

The decrease was the second largest since the 17% plunge in the latter half of 2008, when the global financial crisis led to emerging nations' currencies being dumped. The values of those currencies have been spiraling downward due to plummeting crude oil prices and increased dollar buying now that the U.S. Federal Reserve appears poised to raise interest rates.
Yet while the drawdowns on foreign exchange reserves have been substantial, so are the reserves these countries accumulated during the years after the Asian financial crisis. They feared a rehash during troubled times, and it appears the rainy days they saved for are upon us:
The total foreign reserves of Russia and the so-called fragile five -- Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey -- stood at $1.36 trillion as of the end of December, down $92.8 billion in six months. The decline in the latter half of 2008 was $218.1 billion.

Russia suffered the largest decline, with a decrease of $89.7 billion, or 18%. Turkey recorded a 5% decline; Brazil also logged a slight drop. The Turkish lira and the Russian ruble plunged to record lows against the dollar in December, while the Brazilian real hit its lowest point in roughly nine years. The South African rand dropped to a roughly six-year low, the Indonesian rupiah to a 16-year low and the Indian rupee to a one-year low.

It is unlikely, however, that these six countries will run out of foreign reserves anytime soon; they have expanded these reserves by roughly 200% in the past decade. The market largely expects these countries will not spark a currency crisis or go into default -- at least not for the time being. Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea and even Russia experienced currency and foreign reserve crises in the 1990s. Monetary authorities have apparently learned a lesson from that era.
It's time to hang tough, then. Judging from their leadership, I'm relatively more sanguine about the prospects of India and Indonesia, but you never know how these things pan out.