A commodity price shock could push policymakers to allow inflation to rise by as much as three points in some emerging markets, Barclays projects. 

But if commodity prices reverse, Barclays sees little or mild inflation: rates might creep up two to four tenths of a percent in Latin America, and remain steady in Asia.

The good news, according to Barclays , is that most emerging markets are not overheated, as they were in 2008 when food prices soared. 

The United Nations has warned the world may face a food crisis next year, citing a global shortage of corn and wheat. Both food and metal prices have flirted with their 2008 peaks, with the copper spot price surging 30% and  food commodity price indices increasing 15% in the four-month period since July 15. While still far from their peaks, oil prices have also gained a strong 11% over the period, Barclays reports.

Emerging market investors have been on the defensive, buying up inflation hedges, amid fears of turbulance.

Citigroup forecasts that half the countries represented in the benchmark JP Morgan MSCI Emerging Markets Index will hike interest rates next year. Mexico and Russia are expected to act in 2012.

The threat of rising commodity prices comes against a background of easy money in the United States and a weak dollar which could exacerbate inflation abroad, eating into emerging market bond returns and pushing up borrowing costs. The markets have also been spooked by China’s quick action to raise reserve requirements, fighting inflation now at its highest point since 2008.

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