The South African rand jumped on Monday despite a pair of sovereign ratings downgrades, while emerging market stocks raced to a fresh 32-month high on hopes of an early rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
The rand gained 0.8% with the safe-haven dollar under pressure, while a widely watched EM equities index rose 0.9% to hit new highs since March 2018, supported by strong gains across Asian bourses.
Investors shrugged off news that credit rating agencies Fitch and Moody’s had both cut South Africa’s sovereign ratings further into junk – moves that the finance ministry warned could drive up the government’s borrowing costs and constrain the fiscal options.
Russia’s rouble, Mexico’s peso rose about half a percent each, while their Asian peers also edged higher.
The mood across global markets brightened at the start of the week as a top U.S. official said health regulators would likely grant approval for distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech in mid-December.
Meanwhile, Britain’s AstraZeneca said its vaccine could be around 90% effective without any serious side effects.
“In a reversal of the COVID trade, some currencies with weak fundamentals (such as ZAR, TRY) should play catch-up to the stronger ones (North Asian currencies for example),” EM strategists at Societe Generale wrote in a note.
“This rotation means that the high degree of divergence seen in 2020 will continue into next year and leave average EM currency performance roughly flat.”
Stocks and currencies in the developing world surged to 2018 highs earlier in November, boosted by trade-reliant Asian and Mexican markets after Joe Biden’s victory in the U.S. presidential election raised hopes of friendlier trade policies.
The Turkish lira remained an outlier, giving back more than 1% to trade at 7.74 per dollar after a stellar run in the past weeks following a 475-basis-points policy rate hike by the central bank.
Analysts said some of the weakness was due to profit-taking after the currency rallied from a record low of 8.58 against the dollar earlier this month.
Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru, graphic by Marc Jones in London Editing by Gareth Jones