Central banks step in again as emerging currencies resume rout

People walk past a currency exchange board showing rouble exchange rates in Moscow January 30, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

By Natsuko Waki

LONDON (Reuters) - The Russian rouble hit record lows against the euro on Thursday and currencies in South Africa and Hungary hit multi-year troughs in the latest wave of an emerging market asset sell-off threatening global economic stability.

India's finance ministry also said the country would take any steps necessary to ensure financial market calm.

Russia's central bank pledged to make unlimited interventions if the rouble's exchange rate strays outside of its target corridor. Romania indirectly intervened to prop up the leu.

Faced with the same kind of risk-averse mood among investors, Hungary cut back a sale of 12-month Treasury bills in which yields were driven up by almost 67 basis points.

Fears about emerging economies intensified after moves this week by Turkey, South Africa and India failed to halt a wholesale capital flight. The Federal Reserve's decision to withdraw more of its monetary stimulus and weak Chinese data added to the concerns.

"The pressure on these currencies has been relentless and it seems like places like South Africa, Hungary and Turkey are trying to force policymakers to bring real rates to much higher levels," said Manik Narain, emerging market strategist at UBS.

"Rate hikes have been effectively rejected by the currency markets... Institutional investors have remained faithful (but) it may be that some of these positions are starting to crack."

The benchmark MSCI emerging equity index fell 0.8 percent <.MSCIEF> to a fresh 4-1/2 month low.

The huge outflows from emerging markets were triggered by the Fed's decision to taper off a huge stimulus package that has pumped money into the world financial system, much of it going into higher-yielding emerging market investments.


Russia's central bank said it would launch unlimited FX interventions if the rouble's exchange rate strays outside of the corridor it targets against a dollar-euro currency basket.

Earlier, the Russian rouble hit a record low of 48.21 per euro on Thursday and also fell to the lowest level since March 2009 against the dollar.

The five-year Russian bond yield hit a 16-month high, with the yield rising 70 basis points this week alone.

Romania's central bank intervened indirectly in the market to support the currency, bringing the leu up around 0.4 percent against the euro.

Hungary's forint fell 1 percent to a fresh two-year low of 312.65 per euro, extending losses made after the country's central bank delivered a surprise 15 basis points rate cut last week.

Budapest was forced to cut its 12-month bill sale by 15 billion forint ($66.30 million) at Thursday's auction, with the average yield jumping 67 bps from the previous sale just two weeks ago.

The Turkish lira fell more than 1 percent to 2.2810 per dollar, approaching record lows set earlier this week and fully erasing gains made after the central bank surprised the market with a whopping 425 basis point rate hike.

Local stocks <.XU100> lost 1.3 percent. The lira's one-month implied volatility shot above 20 percent on Wednesday, its highest in nearly 5 years.

The South African rand also ignored a surprise 50 basis point hike from the central bank on Wednesday, hitting a fresh five-year low of 11.38 per dollar.

The yield on benchmark government bonds jumped 36 bps to 7.36 percent.

Pressure is mounting on other central banks to act to counter inflation and support their currencies, including Mexico.

The peso hit 18-month lows last week and the country's inflation has shot up well above the central bank's limit this month. The central bank said on Wednesday it is weighing whether monetary policy needs adjusting.

(Additional reporting by Jamie McGeever and Sujata Rao Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)