Emerging Markets’ Euro Nemesis

BRUSSELS – Emerging markets’ currencies are crashing, and their central banks are busy tightening policy, trying to stabilize their countries’ financial markets. Who is to blame for this state of affairs?

A few years ago, when the US Federal Reserve embarked on yet another round of “quantitative easing,” some emerging-market leaders complained loudly. They viewed the Fed’s open-ended purchases of long-term securities as an attempt to engineer a competitive devaluation of the dollar and worried that ultra-easy monetary conditions in the United States would unleash a flood of “hot money” inflows, driving up their exchange rates. This, they feared, would not only diminish their export competitiveness and push their external accounts into deficit; it would also expose them to the harsh consequences of a sudden stop in capital inflows when US policymakers reversed course.

At first sight, these fears appear to have been well founded. As the title of a recent paper published by the International Monetary Fund succinctly puts it, “Capital Flows are Fickle: Anytime, Anywhere.” The mere announcement that the Fed might scale down its unconventional monetary-policy operations has led to today’s capital flight from emerging markets.

But this view misses the real reason why capital flowed into emerging markets over the last few years, and why the external accounts of so many of them have swung into deficit. The real culprit is the euro.