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Civil unrest fueled Latin American currency depreciation in November

Latin American currencies led the declines among emerging markets during November in a challenging political environment, while a stronger U.S. dollar added fuel to the fire.

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Anti-government protest clashes in Santiago, Chile.

Source: AP Photo

Chile's peso recorded its largest monthly decline since September 2011 as oft-violent protests over social inequality in the country wiped 8.5% off the peso's value. In a bid to stem the currency's fall, Banco Central de Chile launched a market intervention program worth $20 billion, but the peso remains on track to record its steepest annual decline since 2015.

Repercussions from domestic protests have "severely punished" the Chilean peso already, wrote Felipe Camargo, economist at Oxford Economics, adding that the currency is expected to stay "undervalued by 9% during the political transition period." The Chilean peso ended November at 809.46 per dollar and is projected to hover around 810 per dollar during early 2020, Camargo added in a Nov. 29 research note.

The sell-off in the Chilean peso also weighed on major regional currencies, with the Colombian peso, Peruvian sol, Mexican peso and Brazilian real ending November in the red against the dollar.

Individually, the Colombian peso took a hit from Colombia's own anti-government protests, while a failed government-led oilfield auction weighed on the Brazilian real. The real depreciated 4.8% against the dollar and the Colombian peso was down 4.5% in November.

"We think that the news flow as well as stable-but-low commodity prices could continue to pose challenges to the performance of some of [the Latin American] currencies in the short and medium term," Jaco Rouw, interim lead portfolio manager for emerging market debt local currency at NN Investment Partners, said in an emailed response to questions.

However, the Mexican peso could outperform regional peers as President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's administration aims to stabilize the economy by maintaining fiscal orthodoxy and respecting Banco de México's autonomy, among other things, Rouw said.

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The South African rand outperformed emerging market peers during November, helped by an unexpected "dramatic upwards revision" of the government's fiscal deficit target and the debt-to-GDP trajectory, Rouw said. The silver lining lies in the government's use of "realistic economic growth numbers" in its medium-term budget policy statement and the potential for reform-minded government officials to garner support for "unpalatable, but necessary" action in light of a rating downgrade by Moody's last month, Rouw said.

The rand appreciated nearly 3% against the dollar in November trimming its annual loss to 5.2%, while the Israeli shekel posted a 1.5% gain, extending its 2019 advance to 7%.

The MSCI International Emerging Market Currency Index slipped 0.5% in November following a 1.9% gain in October and was 1.0% higher through the first 11 months of the year.