EMERGING MARKETS-Stocks hit record high on stimulus, earnings optimism

* Most EMEA currencies muted, rand outperforms

* EM earnings growth seen at best pace in nearly two decades

* Forint outpaces CEE peers

Feb 10 (Reuters) – Emerging market stocks hit a record high on Wednesday as hopes of a bumper U.S. stimulus package and easy monetary policy supported equities, while South Africa’s rand hit a more than one-month high.

The MSCI’s index of EM stocks jumped 0.8% to a record high, with Asian stocks supporting the index on the back of strong earnings.

Bourses in Europe, the Middle East and Africa also rose, with Turkish stocks adding 0.7%, while South African stocks rose 0.8%.

South Africa’s rand jumped 0.5% to its strongest level since early-January, as the country looked to resume its vaccination program.

Prospects for South Africa’s coal, metal, and wine exports have also improved, as a row between China and Australia looks to potentially shift Chinese buyers to the country.

Expectations of a $1.9 trillion U.S. stimulus rose as an economic recovery appeared to be slowing down in the country, while most global central banks have indicated they will maintain loose policy to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact.

While the increased liquidity is beneficial to equities, it tends to have a detrimental effect on foreign exchange rates. But emerging market currencies in EMEA and Asia have had some support from their relatively higher lending rates.

Growth in EM company earnings is also expected to be at its best in two decades, given that several major economies are recovering steadily from the pandemic.

“We are overweight EM equities. We see them as principal beneficiaries of a vaccine-led global economic upswing in 2021,” said Jean Boivin, head of the BlackRock Investment Institute in a recent note to clients.

“Other positives: our expectation of a flat to weaker U.S. dollar and more stable trade policy under a Biden administration.”

Investors were awaiting U.S. inflation data later in the day, which is expected to factor into the Federal Reserve’s outlook for eventually tightening monetary policy.

Most other EMEA currencies marked small moves for the day.

Turkey’s lira was flat after data showed the country’s unemployment rate ticked up to 12.9% in the November period.

In central Europe, Hungary’s forint slightly outpaced its peers against the euro, as the country kicked off a vaccination program with Russia’s Sputnik COVID-19 vaccine. The country will also use start using AstraZeneca’s vaccine this week.

Elsewhere, shares of British emerging market asset manager Ashmore Group rose as much as 4% after its first-half pretax profit surged 14%.

For GRAPHIC on emerging market FX performance in 2021, see tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh For GRAPHIC on MSCI emerging index performance in 2021, see tmsnrt.rs/2OusNdX

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