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Recent Developments Are MXN-Positive
Banco de Mexico announced a new FX program to help support the peso without draining its foreign reserves. While this should help lower FX volatility near-term, the peso is benefiting more from a more benign EM backdrop and signs of thawing US-Mexico relations.
Tensions remain high as President Pena Nieto and his government has said they refuse to accept unilateral US actions on immigration.
Mexican Foreign Minister Videgaray said the government will fight President Trump’s most recent immigration order, which allows the US to deport any illegal immigrants to Mexico, even if they are not Mexican nationals.
Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Homeland Security Kelly are currently in Mexico. The team is meeting with their Mexican counterparts to discuss immigration and security issues. The meetings come after Pena Nieto last month cancelled a visit to the US, and so perhaps there is a thaw in relations. White House press secretary Spicer played down the rifts, instead calling US-Mexico relations as “phenomenal.”
Indeed, comments today from US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin regarding Mexico should be viewed as constructive. This stance would support the view that a less confrontational stance will be seen, despite President Trump’s inflammatory campaign promises. Mnuchin said that he was not worried about US-Mexico trade relations, calling it a “win-win” result for both countries. He added that we shouldn’t expect action on US-Mexico trade in the short-term.
The economy is still sluggish. GDP growth is forecast to decelerate modestly to 1.6% in 2017 from 2.3%% in 2016. GDP rose 2.4% y/y in Q4 vs. 2.1% in Q3, so there are upside risks to the forecasts. Indeed, higher oil prices should help boost growth in 2017. On the other hand, fiscal and monetary tightening will act as headwinds.
Price pressures are rising, with CPI accelerating to 4.7% y/y in January. This is the highest rate since September 2012, and has moved above the 2-4% target range. Core inflation accelerated to 3.8% y/y in January, as did PPI to 12.3% y/y.
Higher inflation would seem to support the case for further tightening. However, the bank will likely wait to see if the firmer peso will have a beneficial impact on inflation before hiking again. Next policy meeting is March 30. Our early call is for no change, but this will depend in large part on external factors. The central bank last hiked rates 50 bp to 6.25% earlier this month.
Fiscal policy has remained prudent. Unlike many of the commodity exporters, Mexico was relatively well-prepared for the downside of the commodity cycle. The Finance Ministry enacted several rounds of fiscal tightening last year. The budget deficit came in at an estimated -2.6% of GDP in 2016, down from -3.5% 2015. The gap is expected to narrow slightly to -2.5% in 2017 and -2.1% in 2018.
The external accounts should improve. Higher oil prices should help exports, while the sluggish economy will help reduce imports. The current account gap was -3.3% of GDP in 2016, and is expected by the IMF to narrow to -2.8% in 2017 and -2.4% in 2018. FDI continues to cover a large portion of the current account deficit.
After falling modestly in 2015, foreign reserves have remained fairly steady for much of 2016. At $174.8 bln in January, they cover more than 5 months of imports and are almost 3 times larger than its short-term external debt stock. The recently announced FX hedging program and higher oil prices should help the bank replenish reserves.