Sep 3rd 2013

Are Emerging Markets Submerging?

by Kenneth Rogoff

Kenneth Rogoff is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Harvard University, and was formerly chief economist at the IMF.

CAMBRIDGE – With economic growth slowing significantly in many major middle-income countries and asset prices falling sharply across the board, is the inevitable “echo crisis” in emerging markets already upon us? After years of solid – and sometimes strong – output gains since the 2008 financial crisis, the combined effect of decelerating long-term growth in China and a potential end to ultra-easy monetary policies in advanced countries is exposing significant fragilities.

The fact that relatively moderate shocks have caused such profound trauma in emerging markets makes one wonder what problems a more dramatic shift would trigger. Do emerging countries have the capacity to react, and what kind of policies would a new round of lending by the International Monetary Fund bring? Has the eurozone crisis finally taught the IMF that public and private debt overhangs are significant impediments to growth, and that it should place much greater emphasis on debt write-downs and restructuring than it has in the past? 

The market has been particularly brutal to countries that need to finance significant ongoing current-account deficits, such as Brazil, India, South Africa, and Indonesia. Fortunately, a combination of flexible exchange rates, strong international reserves, better monetary regimes, and a shift away from foreign-currency debt provides some measure of protection.

Nonetheless, years of political paralysis and postponed structural reforms have created vulnerabilities. Of course, countries like Argentina and Venezuela were extreme in their dependence on favorable commodity prices and easy international financial conditions to generate growth. But the good times obscured weaknesses in many other countries as well. 

The growth slowdown is a much greater concern than the recent asset-price volatility, even if the latter grabs more headlines. Equity and bond markets in the developing world remain relatively illiquid, even after the long boom. Thus, even modest portfolio shifts can still lead to big price swings, perhaps even more so when traders are off on their August vacations.

Until recently, international investors believed that expanding their portfolios in emerging markets was a no-brainer. The developing world was growing nicely, while the advanced countries were virtually stagnant. Businesses began to see a growing middle class that could potentially underpin not only economic growth but also political stability. Even countries ranked toward the bottom of global corruption indices – for example, Russia and Nigeria – boasted soaring middle-class populations and rising consumer demand. 

This basic storyline has not changed. But a narrowing of growth differentials has made emerging markets a bit less of a no-brainer for investors, and this is naturally producing sizable effects on these countries’ asset prices.

A step toward normalization of interest-rate spreads – which quantitative easing has made exaggeratedly low – should not be cause for panic. The fallback in bond prices does not yet portend a repeat of the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980’s or the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990’s. Indeed, some emerging markets – for example, Colombia – had been issuing public debt at record-low interest-rate spreads over US treasuries. Their finance ministers, while euphoric at their countries’ record-low borrowing costs, must have understood that it might not last. 

Yes, there is ample reason for concern. For one thing, it is folly to think that more local-currency debt eliminates the possibility of a financial crisis. The fact that countries can resort to double-digit inflation rates and print their way out of a debt crisis is hardly reassuring. Decades of financial-market deepening would be undone, banks would fail, the poor would suffer disproportionately, and growth would falter.

Alternatively, countries could impose stricter capital controls and financial-market regulations to lock in savers, as the advanced countries did after World War II. But financial repression is hardly painless and almost certainly reduces the allocative efficiency of credit markets, thereby impacting long-term growth.

If the emerging-market slowdown were to turn into something worse, now or in a few years, is the world prepared? Here, too, there is serious cause for concern. 

The global banking system is still weak in general, and particularly so in Europe. There is considerable uncertainty about how the IMF would approach an emerging-market crisis after its experience in Europe, where it has had to balance policies aimed at promoting badly needed structural change in the eurozone and those aimed at short-run economic preservation. That is a topic for another day, but the European experience has raised tough questions about whether the IMF has a double standard for European countries (even those, like Greece, that are really emerging markets).

It is to be hoped, of course, that things will not come to that. It seems unlikely that international investors will give up on emerging markets just yet, not when their long-term prospects still look much better than those of the advanced economies. 

Besides, the current sentiment that the eurozone has gotten past the worst seems exceedingly optimistic. There has been only very modest structural reform in countries like Italy and France. Fundamental questions, including how to operate a banking union in Europe, remain contentious. Spain’s huge risk premium has almost disappeared, but its debt problems have not.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the political polarization in Washington is distressing, with another debt ceiling debacle looming. Today’s retreat to advanced-country asset markets could quickly revert to retreat from them.

The emerging-market slowdown ought to be a warning shot that something much worse could happen. One can only hope that if that day should ever arrive, the world will be better prepared than it is right now.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2013.
www.project-syndicate.org

 

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
Editor's Note: This article is about the Federal Reserve, inflation in the 1970's, and possible similarities to today.
May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."