The prospect of less quantitative easing in America has rocked currency and bond markets in the emerging world. There are many reasons why a fund manager might want to sell the rand. South Africa’s economy is barely growing. Unemployment, at 25% of the workforce, is on a par with the grimmest parts of the euro zone. The mining industry is beset by labour unrest just as commodity prices are falling. The country’s large trade deficit is a sign that local producers are struggling in vain against foreign competition. The rand has fallen by 16% against the US dollar this year. Only the Syrian pound and Venezuelan bolívar have fared worse.
Yet these local difficulties are not the only reasons for the rand’s slump. South Africa has the financial markets of a rich country: it is easier to buy and sell bonds and stocks there than in most middle-income countries. So the rand is a convenient currency in which speculators can take a position on emerging markets more generally. As the fast-money crowd sense the beginning of the end of loose monetary policy in America, bonds and currencies in emerging markets are the assets they want to sell. The rand is merely the worst-hit in a long list of vulnerable currencies. Read more »