Emerging - 28 January 2020
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    The end of the CFA franc and its replacement with the eco scheduled for next June address the legitimate desire of WAEMU member countries to manage what is already their single currency. Governance of the currency regime will change as the French Treasury pulls out of WAEMU entities, although it will still serve as the lender of last resort. Though the euro peg will limit monetary policy’s independence, it is necessary to shore up the macroeconomic stability of WAEMU, which is still fragile.
    In 2019, economic growth slowed to 6.1%. Total exports contracted and domestic demand continued to weaken. The year 2020 is getting off to a better start as activity shows a few signs of recovering and a preliminary trade agreement was just signed with the United States. Yet economic growth prospects are still looking downbeat in 2020. The rebalancing of China’s growth sources is proving to be a long and hard process, and economic policy is increasingly complex to manage. Faced with this situation, Beijing might decide to give new impetus to the structural reform process, the only solution that will maintain the newfound optimism and boost economic prospects in the medium term.
    India’s real GDP growth remains far below its long-term potential, and economic indicators do not suggest a significant turnaround in the short term. The government has little manoeuvring room to stimulate the economy. In the first eight months of the fiscal year, the budget deficit already amounted to 115% of the full-year target, and the central bank must deal with rising inflationary pressures, which are hampering its monetary easing policy (which is not very effective anyway). The prospects of materially lower economic growth has led the rating agency Moody’s to downgrade its outlook to negative. Yet it is the financing of the economy as a whole that is at stake.
    Despite a more challenging global environment and a deterioration in the country’s external accounts, Brazil’s economic recovery is gaining some traction on the back of a strengthening domestic demand. In 2020, GDP growth is forecast to improve but questions remain nonetheless regarding the economy’s ability to build up and keep up momentum. The easing of monetary and financial conditions should help support the credit market but should continue to have a weakening impact on the currency. During his first year in office, President Jair Bolsonaro’s losses in terms of approval ratings contrast with his government’s notable gains on the public finance front.  
    In 2019, despite weak growth and a drop in oil revenues, Russia’s macroeconomic fundamentals remained sound. This said, growth prospects remain weak despite disinflation and a relaxation of monetary policy. Standards of living are still low and the poverty rate has increased. The main threat to economic growth is a tightening of sanctions, even though the sharp increase in foreign exchange reserves, the rebuilding of the national wealth fund and the significant reduction in external debt are all factors that reduce the country’s dollar financing requirement. A toughening of sanctions could hit foreign direct investment, which has fallen sharply over the last five years.    
    Having more or less stagnated in 2019, economic growth is likely to bounce back a little in 2020, boosted by private consumption and net exports. Despite an infrastructure programme that is largely open to the private sector, the outlook for investment is struggling to improve. One year after Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, generally known as AMLO, came to power, his economic policy is still hard to decipher. The lack of clarity on energy sector reform is also affecting investor sentiment. At the same time, the risk of a loss of control of the public finances is growing: against a background of low growth, maintaining the austerity programme favoured by the government will prove more difficult from 2021.
    With violent protests rocking Chile since October, the government announced a series of measures to combat inequality and proposed a new version of its pension system reform. Above all, the government signed an agreement with the main opposition parties to draw up a new constitution. Yet persistently fierce political and social tensions are bound to curtail growth. Forecasts for the next two years have been revised largely downwards. The public debt and deficit are also expected to swell over the next five years.
    Taiwan’s export sector has been hit by the slowdown in trade between China and the United States since spring 2018, but it has also benefited rapidly from some of the positive effects of the trade war. US importers have replaced certain Chinese products with goods purchased directly from Taiwan. Plus the US-China trade war provides Taiwanese manufacturing corporates an incentive to leave Mainland China and relocate production in Taiwan, with firm government support. Thanks to these developments, Taiwan’s economy reported stronger than expected growth in 2019, and this trend should continue in 2020.
    Economic growth was still robust in 2019 despite a less favourable local and international environment. Healthy external performances fuelled a significant upturn in the shekel, which in turn curbed inflationary pressures. The start-up of natural gas exports in 2020 should support this trend. Under this environment, the central bank has few policy instruments available. It resumed currency market interventions to try to curb the shekel’s appreciation. After the budget overruns of 2019, however, we do not expect public finances to improve significantly given the high level of political uncertainty.
    Ukrainian growth accelerated rapidly in the first nine months of 2019, driven notably by the agricultural sector and household consumption, the latter being largely stimulated by borrowing. The appreciation of the hryvnia (UAH) triggered a sharp drop in inflation, which facilitated greater monetary policy easing. In the short term, monetary policy support should offset the impact of the global economic slowdown, which has already eroded industrial activity. At the same time, the announcement of a new IMF agreement is bound to reassure foreign investors. The central bank will have to deal with a classic dilemma: it needs to ease monetary policy to curb portfolio investment inflows, but doing so risks triggering a credit boom.
    Non-oil GDP growth rebounded strongly in 2019 after three years of disappointing performances. Household consumption and public sector investment spending are the main growth engines driving the recovery. Economic prospects are still positive in the short term due to the slowdown in the pace of fiscal reforms. The fiscal deficit will remain high, although exceptional one-off income and the transfer of spending to extra-budgetary entities should help hold it down. Potential growth is hampered by the erratic pace of fiscal reforms and the mixed outlook for the oil market.
    With anaemic growth, strong pressure on hydrocarbon revenue and substantial twin deficits, the macroeconomic situation is worrying. For the time being, forex reserves remain at comfortable levels but the speed and scale of their contraction is a major source of vulnerability over the short to medium term. Meanwhile, although certain decisions suggest a change of tack in the government’s position after years of economic protectionism, this progress is still too hesitant given the challenges. It is also of limited effectiveness whilst the business climate has not yet stabilised.
    In order to support economic growth, the Ethiopian government is transitioning from the traditional debt investment strategy to a foreign equity-based one, by privatizing some state-owned entities and removing foreign investments’ barriers. The recently approved IMF program is targeted to address foreign-exchange shortages as well as to contain debt vulnerabilities by strengthening state-owned enterprises management. Nevertheless, the moving towards a more liberalized exchange rate will be done gradually to avoid triggering inflationary pressures and consequent social unrests.
    Emerging - 18 October 2019
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    Growth prospects for the emerging countries in 2020 (EC) have dimmed with the slowdown in export markets and the climate of uncertainty that reigns with the US-China trade war. This uncertainty has increased the volatility of portfolio investments since last summer, although external financing conditions are still favourable on the whole. The majority of countries have also eased monetary policy, and the pass-through of key policy rates to lending rates is functioning rather well. Yet private sector debt has risen sharply over the past decade, which could hamper monetary easing if credit risk were to rise.
    Since Q2 2018, Beijing has let the yuan depreciate against the dollar each time the US has raised its tariffs on imported goods from China. Yet, exchange rate policy as an instrument to support economic activity is expected to be used moderately in the short term. There is also little room to stimulate credit given the excessively high debt levels of the economy and the authorities’ priority on pursuing efforts to clean up the financial system, the public sector and the housing market. Torn between stimulating economic growth and deleveraging, the authorities’ dilemma could get worse if recent fiscal stimulus measures do not have the intended impact on domestic demand, or if the external environment were to deteriorate further.
    Economic activity slowed sharply in the first quarter of fiscal year 2019/2020 and second-half prospects are looking morose, even though the monetary authorities and the government have taken major stimulus measures. Monetary easing resulted in a mild decline in lending rates. The recently announced cut in the corporate tax rate should boost domestic and foreign investment in the medium term, although it will not impact growth much in the short term. Companies might decide to consolidate their position rather than to invest in the midst of a sluggish environment.
    The world’s projectors have descended on Brazil following raging fires in the Amazon forest. President Jair Bolsonaro has come under pressure for his lack of engagement and commitment to protecting the environment. The pace of economic growth is still struggling to accelerate. Confidence indicators are ambivalent while investment remains weak. In the wake of a much less buoyant external environment and low inflation risk, the Central Bank has lowered its policy rate by a cumulative 100 basis points since August. The pension reform was approved in the Senate (first round) but was subject to revisions. Throughout the fall, a number of major reforms should be deployed and privatizations and concessions should accelerate.
    In August, the rating agency Fitch upgraded Russia’s sovereign rating based on its greater resilience to the external environment. The timing might seem surprising considering that Russian GDP growth slowed sharply in H1 2019 and the central bank had to revise its outlook for 2019-2021 downwards again. Even so, the consolidation of Russian fundamentals is undeniable. Currently the main sources of concern are the sharp increase in household lending and the delays in implementing public spending programmes, which should stimulate growth in the medium term.
    In the first half of 2019, Poland’s economic growth held up well to the deterioration of international conditions. Its economic prospects remain relatively positive in the short term despite the downturn in the cycle. The economic model of competitiveness and low labour costs – the foundation of the economic transition of which Poland is a successful example – will be altered by the more generous social policies introduced by the current government. Cyclical and structural factors argue for a slowdown in investment growth over the short and medium term. Of the factors weighing on medium and long-term growth potential, the demographic decline seems the most potent.
    Korea’s economic growth prospects have continued to deteriorate. Recent trade tensions with Japan have come on top of the slowdown of the Chinese economy and in global demand as well as the conflict between the United States and China, hitting exports and investment. The authorities have some scope to stimulate domestic demand. As has been the case for several years now, fiscal policy will remain expansionary in 2020, whilst the central bank could cut its policy rate in the short term. Stimulus measures will nevertheless not be enough to boost economic growth significantly in 2020.
    The Macri government faces an emergency situation in the run up to October’s general elections. Confronted with the erosion of foreign reserves and its failure to roll over short-term bonds, the government was forced to 1) delay payment of Treasury bonds held by local institutional investors, 2) announce debt “re-profiling” and 3) tighten capital controls. After this summer’s primary election, the opposition is largely expected to take power. The future government will have to manage numerous priorities and will probably roll back certain economic liberalisation measures. Yet, it has very little manoeuvring room since it cannot risk breaking off relations with the IMF, which is now its main creditor.
    Although still showing a significant deficit, the trade balance has improved substantially since 2017. It has benefited from a recovery in hydrocarbon exports, whilst the steep depreciation of the pound has had only limited consequences on trade in non-hydrocarbon goods. A substantial share of imports is incompressible, whilst structural constraints weigh on the country’s export potential. Moreover, the moderate appreciation of the pound over the past year has not helped price competitiveness. Measures have been introduced to support exports, but we remain cautious on the prospects for a significant improvement in international trade over the medium term.
    The Qatari economy is struggling to find new sources of growth beyond the hydrocarbon sector. Given the stability of hydrocarbon production and the ending of infrastructure investment cycle, economic growth is likely to hit a record low in 2019. Over the medium term, the introduction of new LNG production capacity is likely to bolster the economy. Against the background of a sluggish economy, inflation is likely to be dragged into negative territory by the on-going fall in real estate prices. This said, the public finances and external accounts remain solid and are likely to improve further as the gas rent increases over the medium term.
    Between difficulties in Europe and a poor agricultural harvest, Morocco faces numerous headwinds. Growth slowed in 2019 for the second consecutive year. Yet domestic demand remains robust, bolstered among other factors by low inflation and an accommodating monetary policy. The authorities are also counting on major privatisation proceeds to soften fiscal consolidation without worsening public debt. Above all, the ongoing development of the automobile industry raises hopes for a rebound in GDP growth in 2020, while lower oil imports should help to reduce the current account deficit.
    The country has renewed relationship with the IMF and obtained its financial support in late 2018. Under the Fund supervision, a mild recovery is expected in the near term but outlook remains weak due to a still tight foreign currency liquidity, a troubled banking system and a poor external environment. Amid higher oil price volatility, Angola continues to rely on the oil sector as a source of economic growth, fiscal income and foreign exchange earnings. Despite supportive measures to attract international investors, important deficiencies keep FDI weak. Some fiscal reforms are also ongoing, but governement room for maneuver remains slim.  
    Economic growth is forecast at only 0.4% in 2019, after averaging 1% a year in 2015-2018. The Ramaphosa government has little manoeuvring room to implement reforms, and strong structural headwinds continue to hamper economic activity. Illustrating the country’s enormous lack of infrastructure, major power outages disrupted activity in the first months of the year. To address the severe financial troubles at Eskom, the state-owned company behind the power outages, the government had to unblock additional funds to come to its rescue. The latest rescue package will accelerate fiscal deficit slippage and further weaken sovereign solvency in the medium term.

On the Same Theme

Emerging countries : a not so surprising recovery in portfolio investments 7/19/2019
Growth slowdown in emerging economies seems at odds with the strong rebound in portfolio investments observed since Q42018. How can we analyze this seeming conundrum ?
The shadow of the debt 2/7/2019
Growth is slowing down whereas private debt has just levelled off. Is this something to worry about?
External vulnerability of emerging countries: Ten years on 9/12/2018
In emerging economies, debt of both the public and private sectors has increased over the past ten years. Asian countries, especially China, face mostly a local-currency debt problem; only Indonesia has registered a rise in its USD-denominated debt (as a percentage of GDP). In contrast, in Latin American countries, Turkey and South Africa, the USD-denominated debt of corporates has increased meaningfully. In Gulf countries, governments have had to issue debt on global bond markets to finance their deficits, which have widened following the 2014-2015 fall in oil prices. Emerging borrowers have benefited largely from the global environment of abundant liquidity and low US interest rates in the years that followed the 2008 crisis. Some countries, especially Turkey, Argentina, Chile, South Africa and Indonesia, posted the most deteriorated USD debt-to-GDP ratios at the end of the first quarter of 2018. This highlights their significant vulnerability to US monetary policy tightening and to the ongoing episode of depreciation of their currencies.

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