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Elections loom as threat to uneasy calm across emerging markets

Though Asia will be at the epicenter of the election story in coming months, votes in SA and Argentina are likely to pose risks for investors.

A spate of elections is about to inject a bit of volatility into emerging markets just as this year’s rally starts to unsettle the bulls.

Thailand is preparing for its first general election since a military coup in 2014. Indonesia’s presidential poll follows next month, with incumbent Joko Widodo seen holding a lead over rival Prabowo Subianto. And by then, India, the world’s biggest democracy, will have begun six weeks of voting that will decide whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi wins a second term, with final results due May 23.

Though Asia will be at the epicenter of the election story in coming months, votes in South Africa and Argentina are likely to provide added risks for investors at a time when implied currency swings are at their lowest in a year and banks including Morgan Stanley and HSBC Holdings are urging caution. A Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey published last month labeled emerging markets the world’s most-crowded trade, with indexes of sovereign bonds and currencies registering year-to-date gains and equities on course for their best quarter in two years.

“With the way emerging markets have been moving this year, investors need to be more selective based on a variety of factors including economic fundamentals and political risks,” Takeshi Yokouchi, a senior fund manager at Daiwa SB Investments in Tokyo, which manages the equivalent of $54 billion, said in a phone interview. “The expectation is for the ruling party to win in major elections such as South Africa and Indonesia, with Modi’s party also extending support recently in India, but this doesn’t mean investors can remain care-free about these elections.”

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P

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