Forint follies ... Argentine angst ... and more on mortgages
In Hungary, the currency (called the forint) has been plunging for weeks on end as global investors pare risk and withdraw funds from higher-risk emerging markets. The forint is trading at 214 against the dollar, a huge decline from the 143 level back in July (In other words, 1 U.S. dollar buys many more forints than it did a few months ago). The Magyar Nemzeti Bank, Hungary's central bank, has responded by jacking up the nation's benchmark rate to 11.5% -- an increase of three percentage points. Higher rates are designed to stem the flight of capital.
Meanwhile, in Argentina, the country is planning to seize $29 billion of private pension funds. This caused bond yields in the country to surge, and the Merval stock index to plunge 11% (It is down more than 51% on the year). The government last raided pension fund investments to service its debt in 2001 -- and then defaulted in a move that sent shockwaves through the global capital markets.
While some credit indicators are improving (LIBOR, swap rates, and so on), these events are reminders that we're still in a crisis atmosphere worldwide. Money is fleeing higher-risk economies and flowing into the dollar as a result.
One last minor thing: If you didn't see the latest Mortgage Bankers Association figures on home loan applications, you should check them out. The MBA's combined index (refis + purchases) plunged 17% to 408.1 in the week of October 17, the lowest level since December 2000. The purchase index came in at 279.3, the worst since October 2001.