Emerging

Emerging

    Emerging - 16 April 2021
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    In their spring outlook, the IMF economists expect to see a multi-speed (and incomplete) recovery of the global economy in 2021. Indeed, speed is the key word for 2021 because the emerging countries are racing against time on several fronts. In our eyes, the greatest short-term risks are linked to the race between the rollout of vaccinations and the spread of the pandemic, and between higher food prices and the partial catching-up of revenues for low-income households. If this divergence persists, we could see a rise in social risks, which may have a much more destabilisation capacity than financial risks.
    At the end of the annual “Two Sessions”, China’s major political event, Beijing announced its economic targets for 2021 as well as the priorities of its new five-year plan. By setting this year’s real GDP growth target at simply “more than 6%”, which is lower than forecasts, the authorities are signalling that the economic recovery following the Covid-19 crisis is no longer the main focus of concern. In the short term, they will continue to cautiously tighten monetary policy and gradually scale back fiscal support measures. Above all, the authorities have affirmed their medium-term development strategy, which aims to boost innovation and drastically expand China’s technological independence.
    The economic recovery could be weakened by a second wave of Covid-19 and a fresh surge in inflation. With the government seeking to step up the pace of reforms to support growth over the medium term and improve the business environment, the number of protests against the moves is mounting, with protestors’ ire directed particularly at the privatisations that the government is counting on to cut its budget deficit. In the banking sector, banks currently are able to deal with the expected rise in credit risk. Nevertheless, in order to support a resumption of lending growth, a new injection of capital into state-owned banks has already been planned, alongside the creation of a defeasance structure.
    Having contracted by 2.1% in 2020, the Indonesian economy is likely to see only a modest recovery in 2021. Domestic demand is struggling to recover. Consumer sentiment remains weak and any resurgence in the pandemic could undermine the recovery, at a time when a very low percentage of the population has been vaccinated. Moreover, despite the highly expansionary monetary policy, bank lending has continued on its downward trend. The financial position of Indonesian companies prior to the Covid-19 crisis was more fragile than those of ASEAN peers, and they are likely to seek to consolidate their positions rather than invest in an uncertain future. The banking sector remains solid and well-placed to deal with an expected increase in credit risk. 
    After a severe recession in 2020, economic growth will rebound moderately in 2021-2022. The main growth engines – private consumption and the tourism industry – were weakened by the abrupt shutdown of economic activity as of Q2 2020, and the dynamics of the recovery will continue to depend on the evolution of the health situation. As in 2020, the authorities will take advantage of the comfortable manoeuvring room built up prior to the crisis to provide economic support. In the medium to long term, political tensions, exacerbated by the economic crisis, will continue to strain Thailand’s long-term growth potential.
    The health crisis continues to worsen – undermining the economy to a point of entertaining a recessionary risk in the first half of 2021. In this context, confidence has plummeted and financial markets have retreated. The vaccination campaign – after facing significant logistical challenges – has finally begun to accelerate since mid-March and with the concomitant introduction of new restrictive measures, the hope is that the epidemic curve will reach an inflection point over the next two months. Faced with rising inflation and inflation expectations, the Central Bank launched its monetary tightening cycle, which – against a backdrop of slowing economic activity and a high sovereign interest burden – has exacerbated budgetary pressures and risks. Although weakened by the crisis, financial soundness indicators of the banking sector remain very favourable.
    Thanks to a strong Q4 rebound, the contraction in real GDP was limited to 8.2% in 2020, the public deficit did not swell as much as expected, and 2021 growth prospects were given a boost. Yet the recovery is still fragile: private consumption and investment have both taken a lasting hit from the 2020 crisis, and the export sector will not benefit fully from the expected rebound in US growth. The crisis also exacerbated concerns about the vulnerability of public finances and the decline in investment, which will undermine medium to long-term growth prospects.
    The November 2020 announcement that monetary policy would move in a new direction had tamed financial tensions. However, as the Central Bank Governor was removed in March 2021, uncertainty came back. Exchange rate depreciation pressures have reappeared and interest rates and risk premiums have risen. Growth support will be the top policy priority, but at the price of maintaining significant macroeconomic imbalances. Credit risk is not reflected into the non-performing loan ratio but the forbearance period which is allowing the postponement of their reporting will end at mid-2021. The observed corporate investment recovery is welcomed, as a precondition to improve potential growth, but other conditions such as productivity growth are still missing.
    The country weathered the difficulties of 2020 relatively well, notwithstanding the recession that Covid-19 produced and the drying up of private capital inflows. Thanks to the improvement in the terms of trade, the current account surplus was sufficient to balance the existing gap. Over recent years, Ukraine has been able to improve its fiscal management, which helped to secure the support of international financial institutions. The challenge for the months ahead lies in a resumption of capital inflows and in the planned reforms to encourage investment and increase potential growth. It will be important to keep an eye on reforms in the banking sector, which relate both to the consolidation of the sector and to the improvement of the prudential and supervisory framework.
    The Egyptian economy proved to be resilient last year. Economic growth remained positive thanks to fiscal support, and the main macroeconomic metrics did not deteriorate significantly thanks notably to international support. The good fiscal performance was noteworthy, and will help maintain the attractiveness of Egyptian debt. This said, it would be wise to remain cautious. On the one hand, the rate of vaccination is slow and the pandemic is still active; on the other hand, the external accounts remain vulnerable, and the improvement in the external energy balance seen in 2020 may not continue in the short term.
    The Qatari economy began 2021 under relatively favourable conditions: thought the regional embargo ended, the Covid-19 pandemic is still active. Despite the fall in oil prices in 2020, the fiscal and current account deficits remained limited. Over the medium term, the development of new gas export capacity should further strengthen an already solid macroeconomic position. The main source of vulnerability remains banks’ external indebtedness, which is very high and continues to grow as the economy’s expansion accelerates. However, government support is guaranteed, and the external position of the banks should be restored as a result of the expected slowdown in lending and increase in deposits.
    So far, the economy has posted a fairly good resilience to the pandemic shock. Although economic growth slowed sharply in 2020, it nonetheless remained in positive territory. Above all, the economy is expected to rebound strongly this year, buoyed by domestic demand and easing political tensions after a busy electoral calendar. The country’s debt situation is also not as alarming compared to the other African countries. Even so, the sharp deterioration in public finances in 2020 calls for fiscal consolidation, which could prove to be difficult without a sustainable increase in fiscal revenue. This could weigh on the growth prospects of an economy that is increasingly dependent on public investment. 
    Although Kenya was spared a recession in 2020, the Covid-19 shock exacerbated the country’s economic vulnerabilities. The risk of excessive public debt is especially high, and despite financial support provided by multilateral and bilateral creditors, budget management will remain a big challenge in the short and medium terms. The level and structure of the debt expose the government to solvency risk. Fortunately, reforms are expected to reduce this risk, and the IMF financing programme recently granted to the Kenyan authorities should support these efforts and help reassure non-resident investors.
    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.

On the Same Theme

Rising US Treasury yields : no spillovers yet to emerging bond markets 3/24/2021
The significant increase in US Treasury yields in recent months has not yet led to a widening of the spread between US Treasuries and the global emerging bond market index. This index covers USD-denominated traded bonds & loans issued by sovereign and quasi-sovereign borrowers in a large number of developing economies, whereby a distinction is made between investment grade (IG) and the lower quality speculative grade (SG) issuers. The absence of spillovers coming from the United States is a relief. Admittedly, emerging market yields have moved higher, in line with US yields, but they have been spared from a spread widening, which would have made financing conditions even more onerous. Things have been different in the past. The taper tantrum in May 2013 –when Fed chairman Ben Bernanke indicated that the pace of asset purchases might be slowed down– caused higher US yields and a jump in emerging spreads. On the other hand, the Federal Reserve tightening cycle that started in 2015 but gathered pace in 2017 initially saw a narrowing of spreads and it was only in 2018 that spreads moved significantly higher. The guidance from the Federal Reserve that the current accommodative stance will be maintained for a considerable time and as long as data warrant, in combination with the ongoing quest for yield by international investors suggest that at the index level, spreads should remain rather stable. Country-specific developments could of course trigger more important spread movements.
The Covid crisis has not raised domestic borrowing costs for governments 2/10/2021
Almost a year ago, the pandemic triggered a financial shock that shook the emerging countries. Since then, monetary and financing conditions have largely returned to normal. Portfolio investment even soared to record levels in the second half of 2020 in a context of a massive support from the Fed. Under this environment, for the majority of the major emerging countries, government borrowing costs in local currency are equal or lower than they were at year-end 2019. And yet swelling fiscal deficits have driven up public debt to unprecedented levels. The low cost of government borrowing can be attributed largely to the widespread easing of conventional monetary policy via policy rate cuts, and to the securities purchasing programmes adopted by many EM central banks. Yet low borrowing costs also reflect the need or obligation for banks and other domestic financial intermediaries to mobilise national savings to cover public financing needs. During this unprecedented crisis, governments have had to support their economies by using every lever possible (fiscal stimulus, state-backed loans). The rise in public debt cannot be blamed on poor fiscal management. It is normal and highly welcome that borrowing costs in the emerging countries are not higher than pre-crisis levels.

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