The year of the ballot

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While all eyes will be on South Africa’s election next week, in the broader scope, in 2024, eight of the world’s 10 most populous nations – the US, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mexico, Pakistan, and Russia – go to the polls in the same year for the first time ever. With more than 50 countries electing governments[1], Ninety One’s Emerging Markets Fixed Income team believes we can reasonably expect FX volatility.

This year, more than two billion people are entitled to cast ballots around the world. Depending on where you look, you might see ideologies reshaping economies, challenges to institutions, polarisation by region or market, new assessments of debt, and deep ebbs and flows of trust. Adopting a crystal ball is unwise, in this environment or any other. There is no clear and obvious recipe for portfolio positioning around elections. Because of the variable responses, and generally better liquidity, FX markets are often the best way to express views or hedge positions in and around elections and present a source of potential alpha.

Ninety One’s ‘The year of the ballot’ report considers forthcoming elections in 11 countries, grouping these into those likely to have a high impact on emerging market risk assets, those expected to have a medium impact and those with an anticipated low impact. The report also summarises the outcomes of various elections that have already taken place.

The United States

The looming US election – likely to be the first rematch in 70 years – presents a potential source of market instability across the world, not just in emerging markets. A Trump presidency opens up a wide array of policy scenarios, potentially including further tax cuts, more stringent immigration measures, and further protectionist trade measures – particularly regarding China. The challenger is also facing 91 criminal charges across four separate prosecutions, leading to speculation of civil disobedience if he doesn’t win, and politicisation of key establishments if he does.

Roger Mark, Emerging Markets Fixed Income Analyst: “We remain constructive on EM risk assets ahead of the US election. A Trump presidency is likely to bring the return of additional market volatility and uncertainty that was experienced in his first term.

Ultimately, both presidents have had a mixed market impact in their respective terms, and our team has navigated the uncertainty through a focus on bottom-up best ideas that complement the overall top-down view the team has through the market cycle.” India

With 968 million eligible voters, India’s election will be the largest the world has ever seen. India’s lower house has 543 elected seats and any party or a coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government. While Prime Minister Modi has faced international criticism over his role in stoking division between segments of society, his approval rating remains very high. A surprise loss risks spooking investors, with the opposition lacking credibility on economic policy.

Mark Evans, Emerging Markets Fixed Income Analyst: “We expect the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to win again with Prime Minister Modi at the helm. The best result for the market is a decisive victory for the BJP, although this will more likely be reflected in equity markets rather than the debt markets.

“We have a neutral view on Indian debt as economic growth is strong and inflation is above target, meaning there is little need for the central bank to rush into cutting rates. We are more constructive on the currency thanks to a strong balance of payments, low volatility and relatively high nominal interest rates.”

South Africa

The African National Congress (ANC) has been the dominant force in South Africa since the introduction of free elections in 1994. However, its share has been gradually declining from the 2004 high of 70% to 58% in 2019. Polls show that the party of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa could slip well below the 50% threshold for the first time, potentially leading to the ANC needing to form a coalition with smaller parties to secure its hold on power.

Roger Mark, Emerging Markets Fixed Income Analyst: “The African National Congress (ANC) government has performed very poorly on the economy over the past 10-15 years, and a coalition with the centrist Democratic Alliance would be the most positive outcome for markets. Another, more concerning, option would be a match-up with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) or uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) – an outcome that is possible, but highly unlikely, in our view. A moderate fall to 45-50% of the vote would allow the ANC to form a coalition with smaller parties, such as the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). This is the most likely outcome, in our view, and would be reasonably market-friendly.

“The risk of the ANC having to team up with the EFF post-election has led to meaningful underperformance in South African bond and credit markets in recent months. Because we view this scenario as a tail risk only, we are turning increasingly constructive on the country’s assets.”

Mexico

In Mexico, presidents can only serve one six-year term, so the populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) cannot seek re-election. His policies have been controversial, and while unsuccessful, have unsettled markets. Claudia Sheinbaum, who represents a continuation of AMLO, could present a potential upside for energy policy; she committed to accelerating the transition to renewables. Her closest rival, Xóchitl Gálvez, represents a more market-friendly option, seeking to tackle Mexico’s most pressing issues and pending structural reforms.

Nicolas Jaquier, Emerging Markets Fixed Income Portfolio Manager: “The best result for the market would be a surprise win by the opposition candidate, Xóchitl Gálvez, who is more likely to implement market-oriented reforms. However, the current polling suggests this is a very low-chance event.

“Following strong performance year to date, we have a more neutral view on the peso. Given the front-loaded fiscal spending this year, we remain cautious on Mexican local currency sovereign bonds. In addition, at the time of writing there is less risk premium embedded to cushion against the risk of a Trump victory.”

The impact of each election will vary significantly depending on the individual country and its existing economic and political conditions. Investors should be aware and well informed of the potential opportunities and challenges that can arise during the year of the ballot.

Visit the official COVID-19 government website to stay informed: sacoronavirus.co.za