Assessing Inflation’s Effects Across Emerging Markets

The current inflationary shock is a global phenomenon, driven by supply chain disruptions and the Russia-Ukraine war’s impact on food and commodity prices, with consequences for nations worldwide. The response of policymakers has varied from country to country, contributing to elevated differentials between real – or inflation-adjusted – interest rates in developed markets (DM) and emerging markets (EM). We think this could offer investors opportunities for uncorrelated returns in the form of EM local debt. And yet, investors must be discerning.

EM inflationary momentum remains strong, with outcomes highly correlated to those in DM. Similar to our outlook for DM, we expect EM inflation to peak, gradually trending lower this year and into 2023. Given the magnitude and persistence of this episode, however, we do not expect inflation to decelerate to prior trend levels until after 2023.

EM central banks, which have built credibility fighting inflation over decades, have diverged in their recent policy responses, with some electing to raise interest rates ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve. There have also been a few notable outliers among the more than 80 EM countries:

  • Some nations have experienced a particularly large inflationary shock, as exemplified by Poland, where the war in neighboring Ukraine has had an outsized effect on refugee inflows, supply chains, spending pressure, and commodity prices.
  • Secular erosion, as exemplified by Mexico, has surfaced in the form of more structural pricing pressure, rising inflation expectations, and questions over the long-term independence of the central bank.
  • Policymaking missteps have exacerbated problems for nations such as Turkey, which has resisted raising interest rates even as inflation has surged, rising to 74% year-over-year in May.

Broadly, we expect EM central banks to take their cue from the U.S. as more clarity emerges on the U.S. economic outlook and the Fed’s tightening path. EM inflation is more likely to remain elevated than in DM, given that food and energy have higher weightings in EM inflation-index baskets as well as the propensity of EM fiscal policy to accommodate inflationary shocks.

Surveying the global interest rate landscape

Real-rate differentials between EM and DM are unusually high (see Figure 1), with EM policy rate adjustments looking more mature on average while DM central banks are generally earlier in their hiking cycles. That may offer DM investors a rare opportunity for uncorrelated return potential in the form of EM local debt, which is denominated in an issuer’s domestic currency.

Figure 1 is a line graph measuring the difference between real yields in emerging markets and those in developed markets from 2007 until now. The line shows EM real yields have been higher than DM real yields throughout that period except in 2009. The yield difference has generally remained between 0 and 4 percentage points until the past year, when it surged out of that range, touching 7 percentage points before retreating toward current levels around 5 percentage points.Image Pop Up