PARIS - Investors have begun pulling money out of emerging economies mainly because they think that the US Federal Reserve central bank may be about to wind down its easy-money policy which has supported the economy and pushed funds into the financial system.
This prospect has reduced the willingness of fund managers to take risks even though only a few months ago their focus was more on a rapid rise of stock markets and signs that maybe assets prices were overheating.
At HSBC Global Asset Management France, the head of personal portfolio investment Olivier Gayno said that stock markets in emerging economies had fallen "by more than five per cent in a month." On Thursday, stock markets in Asia fell heavily, with prices in Manilla, Bangkok and Jakarta following a plunge of 6.35 per cent on the Tokyo market.
European stocks opened with falls of 1.0-1.5 per cent.
The main cause is in the form of signals from the US central bank that it is likely to begin turning off the tap which has kept huge amounts of new money flowing into the US financial system each month as part of exceptional measures to help the economy to pull away from five years of crisis and weak growth.
This policy bolstered confidence which in turn reversed a reluctance of investors to take risk: instead they began switching funds into assets offering higher returns than government bonds, and in particular to emerging markets which have been achieving relatively strong growth.
This trend was so strong that the International Monetary Fund warned that the inflow of funds could cause overheating of in emerging economies.
But now investors are on the retreat and some of their investment funding is flowing out of these regions.
Indonesian Finance Minister Chatib Basri explained that three factors lay behind this "global phenomenon": the progressive reduction of Federal Reserve's programme to buy assets thereby injecting cash, a decision by the Bank of Japan at the beginning of the week not to ramp up its easy-money policy, and the attitude of the European Central Bank which reduced its key rates in May but not in June.
The retreat from risk is affecting a range of assets in addition to stocks.
"All asset classes in emerging countries have suffered,", commented AXA IM strategist Mathieu L'Hoir.
The biggest effect has been on government debt markets: bonds priced in terms of local currency had fallen by 8.0 per cent in value in a month, he said.
The consequence of this is that the interest rate which some emerging countries must pay to borrow on the bond market has risen sharply.
This is because bonds are issued with a fixed interest rate for the life of the loan. If perceived risk rises, and investors sell bonds, the price of the bonds falls, and the fixed interest rises automatically relative to the new price. This sets the interest rate which investors will demand at the next bond auction.
Among countries caught by rising bond rates are Brazil, South Africa and Turkey, although Turkey is also under pressure from civil unrest.
At Capital Economics in London, analyst William Jackson said: "Turkey's dependence on foreign capital makes it one of the most vulnerable emerging markets to a deterioration in investor sentiment."