IMF fears ‘cascade’ of woes as Fed crunch nears

The United States is poised to raise rates much more sharply than markets expect, risking a potential storm for global asset prices and a dollar shock for much of the developing world, the International Monetary Fund has warned.

The IMF fears a “cascade of disruptive adjustments” as the US Federal Reserve finally pulls the trigger for the first time in eight years, ending an era of cheap and abundant dollar liquidity for the international system.

The Fed’s long-feared inflexion point is doubly treacherous because investors seem ill-prepared for what lies ahead, and levels of dollar debt outside the US have reached an unprecedented extreme. The Fund said future contracts are pricing in a “much slower” pace of monetary tightening than the Fed itself is forecasting.

The crunch comes as the world economy remains becalmed in 2015 with stodgy growth of 3.5pc, held back by another set of brutal downgrades for Russia and string of countries in Latin America. Emerging markets face a fifth consecutive year of slippage as they exhaust the low-hanging fruit from catch-up growth and hit their structural limits.

“Potential growth in advanced economies was already declining before the crisis. Ageing, together with a slowdown in total productivity, were at work. The crisis made it worse,” said Olivier Blanchard, the IMF’s chief economist.

The big worry is what will happen to Russia, Brazil and developing economies in Asia that borrowed most heavily in dollars when the Fed was still flooding the world with cheap liquidity. Emerging markets account to roughly half of the $9 trillion of offshore dollar debt outside US jurisdiction.

The IMF warned that a big chunk of the debt owed by companies is in the non-tradeable sector. These firms lack “natural revenue hedges” that can shield them against a double blow from rising borrowing costs and a further surge in the dollar. There has already been a trial run of what can go wrong with the much smaller scale of borrowing in Swiss francs.

“The balance sheet shock generated by the sudden large appreciation of the Swiss franc on some countries in central and eastern Europe with sizable domestic mortgage lending in that currency highlights the nature of these risks,” it said.

The BRICS club is no longer in a fit state to handle the full consequences of a dollar shock, with the exception of India, the lone star with 7.5pc growth this year and next. India will overtake China in 2015 for the first time in modern memory.

Full article: IMF fears ‘cascade’ of woes as Fed crunch nears (The Telegraph)

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