During the global financial crisis the world economy stabilized thanks to vibrant emerging markets. Now, emerging economies are weakened by slower growth, rising financial vulnerabilities, and outflow of capital attracted by higher interest rates in the U.S.
What happened after the financial crisis?
Following the 2008 financial crisis, emerging economies rebounded. But since 2011 things have changed. In 2013 growth was 4.5 percent, compared with 6.5 percent two years earlier. Except for Arica, all emerging market regions were marked by some form of economic slowdown. These were the growth rates of the following areas in 2013 : Russia (1.5%), developing Asia (6.5%), Latin America (2.6%), MENA (2.4%), and Central and Eastern Europe (2.5%).
Emerging economies are now richer than ever. And while these countries still have an opportunity to grow in the future, their growth rates are likely to be slower than in the past. This is normal when a country’s catching-up process succeeds in raising its per capita income and its economy approaches a steady state. For example, Chinese GDP per capita tripled in a decade. At 7.5% in 2013 and 7.3% in 2014, China’s growth is lower than during the past decade, but it remains strong for a country where the GDP per capita is about to reach $10,000 this year.
The problem is that Chinese growth is unbalanced. China’s economy continues to rely on high investment and too much credit. In contrast, consumption is weak; it only represents 35% of the GDP. This low level of consumption reflects the macroeconomic challenges faced by the world’s second largest economy—as it redistributes income in a way that enables sustainable growth—and a larger middle class that benefits the economy by enabling more people to be consumers.
In other emerging and developing countries the problem is reversed. Consumption is too dynamic compared to production capacities, and growth is blocked by supply constraints and a lack of investment. Thus, in places like India, Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia, and South Africa current account deficits have widened to alarming levels .
These external imbalances in emerging countries indicate a contradiction between the aspirations of a growing and educated middle class—looking for more consumption—and production whose development is impeded by the lack of investment and inefficiency of the administration. Lately, these contradictions have resulted in growing political tensions (in Brazil, Turkey, and Ukraine) and increased financial fragility.
Countries with high external deficits are usually vulnerable to unexpected monetary shocks, leading to capital outflows. When the U.S. Federal Reserve hinted at its intention to put an end to its accommodative monetary policy last summer, many emerging markets—particularly those with weak fundamentals—experienced strong reversals of capital inflows as investors reacted to the expected “tempering” by reducing their investments in riskier assets (including the assets of emerging markets).
What to expect?
Renewed troubles and retrenchments of capital flows have certainly not led to a new financial crisis, and none of the emerging countries have defaulted on their debt or called for the IMF’s support (which was often the case in the 1990s).
Whereas this is a strong sign that emerging economies have become stronger, the cost of external financing for these countries increased, their currencies depreciated, and their monetary authorities had to raise interest rates (to contain inflationary pressures). All the same, equities and bond markets dropped.
Fighting inflation and preventing a currency from depreciating require tighter monetary policies. But this hampers domestic demand and weakens growth. Moreover, currency depreciations aggravate public deficits and create the sentiment that emerging countries are less able to service their debts denominated in foreign currencies.
As advanced economies recover and their monetary policies return to more conventional policies, further weakness in emerging markets’ equities and bond markets is expected. Emerging markets will face challenging headwinds this year.