Emerging

Emerging

    Emerging - 19 January 2021
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    As the new year gets underway, emerging countries are benefiting from a combination of favourable factors for a recovery (catching-up movements in foreign trade, a weak dollar, rising commodity prices, and domestic financing costs that are lower than pre-crisis levels). Yet lots of uncertainty and threats remain: the rollout of vaccination campaigns, the risk of a surge in insolvency cases among the poorest countries, despite financial support from international institutions and official creditors, and a rise in non-performing loans in banking systems as of 2021. The main risk in the medium term is the combination of a probable loss of growth potential due to the pandemic and the private sector’s record-high debt burden.
    Economic growth reached 2.3% in 2020. Activity has rebounded rapidly since March and the recovery has gradually spread from industry to services. Infrastructure and real estate projects continue to drive investment, but it is also beginning to strengthen in the manufacturing sector, encouraged by solid export performance. Private consumption is still lagging, but yet has picked up vigorously since the summer. Whereas fiscal policy should continue to be growth-supportive in the short term, the monetary authorities are expected to adjust their priorities. Credit conditions should be tightened slowly, especially via the introduction of new prudential rules. Corporate defaults are likely to increase alongside efforts to clean up the financial sector
    The economy has rebounded strongly since July, driven by the recovery in industry, which then spread to the services sector starting in October. Although the recovery still seems to be fragile, the central bank has raised its growth forecast for fiscal year 2020/2021 to -7.5%. Fiscal year 2021/2022 is expected to see a major automatic rebound in growth. Lacking the means to support growth through a fiscal stimulus package, the government has set out to create a more propitious environment for investment that would enable medium-term growth to return to a pace of about 7%. The latest reforms are working in this direction. Yet passing reform measures does not guarantee that they will be implemented, much less that they will be successful.  
    Malaysia is one of the emerging Asian countries hit hardest by the Covid-19 crisis. Although a recovery is underway, it is bound to be hampered by new lockdowns in Q4 2020 and January 2021. Public finances have deteriorated sharply, but the government does not seem inclined to pursue fiscal consolidation. It is giving priority to the economic recovery and support for the most fragile households. The public debt ratio will continue to deteriorate, and in December, the rating agency Fitch downgraded Malaysia’s sovereign rating. Yet refinancing risks are moderate: the debt structure is not very risky and the country has a large domestic bond market. Malaysia will continue to report a current account surplus and has a solid banking sector.
    The Covid-19 epidemic was well controlled last year and lockdown was swiftly eased. Productive activity has rebounded vigorously since May, notably driven by a solid recovery in exports. Fiscal support measures have been moderate, primarily based on the accelerated implementation of already-planned investment projects. In the end, economic growth and macroeconomic balances were only moderately and temporarily affected in 2020. However, there remains a weak link in the economy: banks are insufficiently capitalised while corporates, especially state-owned enterprises, are excessively indebted. Some of these institutions could be severely weakened when monetary support measures come to an end in 2021.
    An active economic policy has helped attenuate the magnitude of the recessionary shock in 2020. The recovery in Q3 was vigorous and was prolonged into Q4. However, the economy showed signs of slowing down towards year-end. Brazil’s external vulnerability did not deteriorate despite high volatility of both portfolio and direct investments as well as a sharp depreciation of the real in 2020. In 2021, the economy will benefit from the recovery in commodity prices and the maintenance of accommodative measures on the monetary side. However, the resurgence of the Covid-19 epidemic coupled with delays in rolling out vaccinations as well as uncertainty regarding the fiscal consolidation process and the lack of progress on reforms are likely to be sources of stress in financial markets and potential destabilising forces for the recovery.
    Peru is one of the Latin American countries to have suffered most from the Covid-19 crisis. After a sharp contraction in Q2 2020, the recovery that began in Q3 has continued. This said, economic activity is unlikely to regain its pre-crisis level before the end of 2022. The economic contraction and the massive stimulus programme introduced by the government have hit public finances, but the deterioration is likely to remain manageable, for the short term at least. However, the deterioration of the political climate seen over the past few years is affecting the medium-term outlook.
    Fiscal support and the resilience of exports helped limit the economic recession in 2020. A strong recovery is likely in 2021, thanks primarily to a rapid vaccination campaign. The shekel has strengthened on the back of a growing current account surplus and massive capital inflows. The situation for public finances is more uncertain. In addition to the structural deterioration of recent years, the lack of a budget law against a background of repeated government instability is not helpful for budget consolidation. Although solid solvency indicators eliminate any short-term risk, a lack of reforms could weigh on potential growth over the medium to long term.
    The scenario of a partial and still fragile economic recovery is confirmed against a backdrop of a spreading pandemic at end-2020. Household consumption is the only component that managed to contribute to growth, but it could run out of steam with the upsurge in inflation. The recovery is expected to broaden in 2021, thanks to the expected resumption of production in the extractive industries, higher oil prices and the improvement in business confidence in the manufacturing sector. Yet monetary and fiscal supports will be relatively small. Public finances have been fairly resilient, and foreign reserves have consolidated despite capital outflows, since the rouble served as the adjustment variable. According to the Central Bank of Russia (CBR), the banks have sufficient reserves to cover the entire amount of restructured loans.
    The second wave of Covid-19 that swept Poland in Q4 2020 was more severe than the first wave in Q2 2020. In contrast, economic growth was not hit nearly as hard thanks to the resilience of industrial output and demand (exports and household consumption). The authorities’ stimulus measures combined with industry’s competitiveness – which was not undermined much by the pandemic – bolstered growth, and the trade surplus increased. Against the background, a somewhat weak zloty is more a choice than a by-product of deteriorated fundamentals. The European budget agreement, as Poland is one of the main beneficiaries of the Recovery Plan, should provide additional support for growth.
    Economic growth experienced several short-lived boom-bust wild swings in 2020, amplified by trade openness and the severity of the second wave of Covid-19 in the fall. However, the recovery in the 3rd quarter proved strong. Industrial production and exports both performed well, boosted by a stable exchange rate (and substantial foreign currency reserves). In addition, thanks to very modest debt levels, the government was able to offer rapid and substantial support to the economy.
    Ethiopia is expected to report its lowest growth rate since 2003. Although the population has been relatively spared by the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic, the cyclical economic environment has deteriorated sharply. The country has been hard hit by both a domestic shock and a decline in external revenues, which is squeezing its structurally low foreign reserves. Support from multilateral creditors will limit liquidity risk in the short term, but the current situation largely underscores the need for reforms. At the same time, political risk is rising with the emergence of socio-political tensions that pose significant challenges for Ethiopia’s political and economic stability.
    With real GDP contracting by 8.5% in 2020, Tunisia was one of the region’s most severely hit economies. The prospects of a recovery are highly uncertain. The economy is threatened by the resurgence of the pandemic, but the government no longer has the manoeuvring room that it had in 2020. The budget deficit and public debt have soared to alarming levels, which calls for a difficult consolidation of public finances. Although FX reserves have been stable, the country’s external vulnerability is growing. The pandemic’s shock has aggravated a structural deterioration in fundamentals. This could have lasting consequences.
    Emerging - 06 October 2020
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    The recovery in economic activity that began at the end of the spring continued through the summer, with China leading the way, and oil and metals prices have picked up. But doubts are emerging as the pace of the recovery seems to be slowing, as reflected by exports recent loss of momentum. Above all, there are currently worries regarding the persistence of the pandemic and the risk of lockdown extensions or even new lockdowns in several countries. There are, however, some factors of support: continued easing of monetary policies, market tolerance of rising budget deficits and a reduction in the debt of the most vulnerable countries by official lenders. However, the leverage of those factors should not be overstated.
    The economy continues to recover. Initially driven by a rebound in industrial production and investment, the recovery broadened over the summer months. Exports have rebounded and activity has also picked up in the services sector. Yet it continues to be strained by the timid rebound in household consumption, which is far from returning to normal levels. The unemployment rate began to fall right again after the end of lockdown measures, but this decline has been accompanied by an increase in precarious jobs and large disparities, with the unskilled and young college graduates being particularly hard hit.
    Once again, South Korea seems to be withstanding the crisis better than developed nations generally. The effective management of the health crisis and the government’s massive stimulus package paved the way to a shallower recession than in other countries in the first half of 2020. However, the new social distancing measures introduced at the end of August and the persistent weakness of exports will hold back growth over the coming months. In the short to medium term, macroeconomic fundamentals are likely to remain very solid: government deficit and debt levels remain modest, inflation is under control and external vulnerability is very low.
    Between April and June 2020, India’s economy contracted by nearly 24% compared to the same period last year. This unprecedented contraction can be attributed to the collapse of domestic demand. Although the economy has rebounded since June, it is still fragile and well below pre-crisis levels, prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. The central bank and government did not have much support capacity, but even this has been eroded by higher prices and a drop-off in fiscal revenue. Public debt is expected to swell to nearly 89% of GDP, and will strain the country’s future development projects, especially given that government spending contributed to nearly 30% of growth last year.
    For the first time since the 1998 crisis, Indonesia is expected to enter recession in 2020. In Q2 2020, the economy contracted by more than 5%, and the recovery should be slow. Domestic demand is struggling to pick up, and Jakarta has just been put under a partial lockdown again. Fiscal support has been slow in coming: planned fiscal spending still hasn’t materialised in the first seven months of the year. Even so, the deficit is under control and the central bank is acting as the lender of last resort. In H2 2020, the government hopes to consolidate the recovery via a massive support package for low-income households. Even though inflation is under tight control, the poverty rate could reach 11.6% according to the World Bank (vs 9.2% in 2019).
    The epidemic remains in full swing, but has shown some signs of deceleration. The recovery in Q3 has been stronger than expected. However, the picture varies considerably from one sector to the next. The central bank has paused its monetary easing cycle for the first time since mid-2019. At the same time, it has adopted a more active communication stance through the embracement of forward guidance. The emergency aid programme – which will push the budget deficit to a record high – has meanwhile helped President Bolsonaro witness a resurgence in popularity.  Negotiations over the 2021 budget are likely to crystallise tensions across the executive and Congress. Difficult choices lie ahead as the authorities will need to arbitrate between supporting the most vulnerable and resuming the process of fiscal consolidation. The currency, over and above its weakness, continues to suffer from considerable volatility. The return of foreign investors to Brazilian markets remains timid overall.
    The health crisis has slammed an economy that was already suffering from more than two years of recession. GDP will probably contract by more than 10% in 2020. With the technical rebound that began in late Q2 and the signing of a public debt restructuring agreement, the country should manage to pull out of recession in the second half. Yet financial instability persists with the erosion of foreign reserves, the stark disconnection between official and parallel exchange rates and expectations of surging inflation. The authorities have tightened forex controls again. IMF support is essential for financial stability but might not suffice for a sustainable recovery.
    The Hungarian economy was hit particularly hard by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in the 2nd quarter of 2020, due to the weight of exports in its GDP. The shock seems to have been absorbed relatively well, with the government and central bank focusing on supporting the labour market and introducing the necessary moratoriums on interest payments and loan repayments. The stimulus measures introduced have been constrained in particular by the need to avoid an excessive depreciation of the forint. The reduction in government debt, interrupted this year, is likely to get back on track quickly, within the framework of an unchanged strategy: maintaining a moderate corporate tax in order to continue to attract foreign investment in the manufacturing sector.
    Since late spring, Turkey has enjoyed a rapid, buoyant recovery. This is rather typical for an economy regularly hit by external shocks that are magnified by capital outflows. Turkey has managed to bounce back yet again thanks to strong economic policy support. The bad news is that it is accumulating several imbalances, including another significant current account deficit and a sharp increase in credit growth, which is accelerating faster than during previous recovery phases. These two factors, which put downside pressure on the lira while driving up inflation, signal a deterioration in the quality of growth and imply higher debt ratios.
    The Egyptian economy has performed pretty well in the face of the pandemic. Activity has been bolstered by major public investment projects, whilst inflation has fallen well below the central bank’s target. The fiscal and current account deficits are likely to increase, but international support and access to capital markets at favourable conditions have contributed to a macroeconomic stabilisation. The continuation of a high policy rate at the central bank has helped keep the Egyptian market attractive to international investors. Thanks to injections of liquidity, lending remains strong, although this increases the exposure of banks to sovereign debt and credit risk in an increasingly uncertain environment.
    Lebanese GDP could fall by a quarter in 2020 under the combined effect of the deep economic crisis that has taken place since 2019 and the Beirut port explosion. In the short term, hopes of a recovery are limited. The economic system that closely links the public finances, commercial banks and the central bank appears to be on its last legs. The system of multiple exchange rates will not prevent the exhaustion of foreign currency reserves in the near future. Meanwhile, the government, which is in default on its foreign currency debt, has been forced to monetize its fiscal deficit. Commercial banks have built up record exposure to sovereign debt and substantial external liabilities.
    Despite rapid support measures, the economy will not escape a severe recession this year. With the abrupt halting of tourism activity, the drop-off in exports to Europe and the collapse of domestic demand in Q2, GDP will contract by about 6%. Although there are high hopes that a good agricultural harvest will fuel a rebound in 2021, the recovery of non-agricultural activities will take time. In contrast, Morocco’s macroeconomic stability does not seem to be threatened. But growing pressure on public finances leaves the authorities very little manoeuvring room.
    With the country in recession for the fifth consecutive year (latest estimates put the contraction in 2020 at 4%), the current crisis is acting as a catalyst for existing weaknesses and further damaging the country’s economic prospects. The combined effect of lower oil prices and production and the depreciation of the currency has increased pressure on the capacity for external financing and the sustainability of Angola’s debt. The country has seen a significant decline in its currency reserves, which could become insufficient as the financing deficit increases. Currently under negotiation, the expected support of bilateral creditors (most notably China) is becoming crucial.  

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