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Prospects Weekly: Investors have returned to emerging markets equity and fixed-income mutual funds

Global Macroeconomics Team's picture
Investors have jumped back into emerging-market equity and bond mutual funds, bringing quarterly inflows up to about $40 billion—well above the 7-year average. Unemployment rates are retreating in most countries, but continue to rise from an already elevated level in high-spread Euro Area countries. Increased grain planting area announced in the U.S. suggest that, if normal weather conditions prevail, grain markets are likely to be wellsupplied. However, increased plantings were achieved at the expense of soybeans—which could bring price pressures to edible oil markets.
 
Investors have returned to emerging markets (EM) equity and fixed-income mutual funds in the first quarter of 2012, although the pace of inflows has decelerated recently. Emerging market bond funds received total inflows of $14.4 billion in inflows during the first quarter, while equity funds posted inflows of $25.6 billion. This follows a very weak second half of 2011 when investors redeemed positions equal to some $9.6 and $17.6 billion in the third and fourth quarters respectively. Despite recent declines, monthly inflows during March exceeded 7-year averages by 10.8 percent for equities and are almost 4 times higher for bonds.
Unemployment rates continue to rise in high-spread high-income European countries, while in developing and other high-income countries they are declining. So far this year the aggregate unemployment rate in high-spread high-income European countries has risen by 1.1 percentage points and now exceeds 15 percent. This contrasts with Germany where the unemployment rate continues to fall and is now well below pre-crisis levels. Elsewhere in Europe unemployment rates are also declining, but only gradually and unemployment remains well above pre-crisis levels. Unemployment is also declining among high-income countries outside Europe, notably in the United States, although there too the unemployment rate is still almost 3.5 percentage points above its pre-crisis average. Among the 27 developing countries reporting data, unemployment inched down to 7.2 percent of the labor force as of February 2012—regaining its pre-2008-crisis level, and significantly below its 20-year average of 8.8 percent.
Global wheat and maize prices remain relatively low, despite lower than expected stocks. Maize and wheat prices are at broadly the same level as two weeks ago, despite sharp fluctuations in the run-up to and following recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports on planting intentions and grain stocks. The reports indicated that U.S. maize and wheat stocks on March 1st were 8 and 16 percent lower than a year ago, well below expectations and earlier estimates. As a result, futures prices jumped 6.6 and 7.9 percent on March 30th regaining the losses incurred earlier in the week in anticipation of a more upbeat outlook. The USDA also reported that US maize and wheat plantings are expected to rise 4 and 3 percent in 2012. As a result, if normal weather conditions prevail, grain markets will likely be well-supplied in 2012/13. However, most of the increased planting area will be at the expense of soybeans—which could put edible oil markets under upward price pressure,  given weather-related late plantings in South America, cyclical declines in East Asian palm oil output, and increased demand for biodiesel production. 

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