Emerging - 19 April 2019
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    After tightening in Q4-2018, external financing conditions in the emerging countries have eased since the beginning of the year. At the same time, there was a net upturn in non-resident portfolio investments, which shows that investors have a greater appetite for risk after the US Fed announced that it would pursue a cautious and flexible monetary tightening policy, and would pause the reduction of the Fed’s balance sheet. The Institute of International Finance (IIF) even concluded that investors were overexposed to the emerging markets. According to the IMF, so-called passive fund management (ETF and other indexed funds) has either reached critical mass or at least has sufficient leverage to trigger financial market instability.
    Industrial enterprises were squeezed by tighter financing conditions in 2017 and early 2018, and then hit by a slowdown in production and revenue growth last year. These troubles have contributed to the deterioration of their payment capacity, resulting in a surge in defaults in the local bond market. The increase in defaults is an indicator of the financial fragility of corporates, and also seems to be going hand-in-hand with greater differentiation of credit risks by lenders and a certain clean-up of the financial sector. These trends are expected to continue in the short term as the authorities conduct a targeted easing of monetary policy. However, the persistence of the debt excess in the corporate sector will maintain high credit risks in the medium term.
    After nearly five years in power, Narendra Modi’s track record is generally positive, even though the last year of his mandate was tough, with a slowdown in growth in Q3-2018/19. The main growth engines are household consumption, and more recently, private investment, thanks to a healthier corporate financial situation, with the exception of certain sectors. In full-year 2018, external accounts deteriorated slightly as a swelling current account deficit was not offset by foreign direct investment. A big challenge for the next government will be to create a more conducive environment for domestic and non-resident investment.
    The hopes of seeing economic activity pick up following the election of Jair Bolsonaro have fallen. Some indicators point to a possible contraction in economic activity in Q1 2019 at a time where confidence indicators were seemingly improving. Meanwhile, the reform of the pension system – a cornerstone of President Bolsonaro's economic program – was presented to Congress in February where it is currently under discussion. Negotiations will likely be more protracted and be more difficult than originally expected. Indeed, since taking office, the popularity of the Brazilian president has sharply declined and relations between the executive and the legislature have strained.
    Economic growth slowed in the first months of 2019, and is now close to its potential growth rate of 1.5% according to the central bank. A 2-point VAT increase on 1 January has strained real wage growth and sapped household consumption. Inflation (5.2% year-on-year in February) is still below the central bank’s expectations, and the key policy rate was maintained at 7.75% following the March meeting of the monetary policy committee. In the first two months of 2019, investors were attracted by high yields on Russian government bonds, despite the risk of further tightening of US sanctions. The rouble also gained 5% against the US dollar in Q1 2019.
    Economic growth rose to 5.1% in 2018, the highest level since the global financial crisis, with few signs of overheating. In 2019-2020, a less favourable cyclical environment in the eurozone and international trade tensions are bound to strain the Polish economy. Even so, domestic demand will remain relatively solid, bolstered by wage growth driven by labour market pressures as well as by the government’s fiscal stimulus measures announced in February in the run up to European elections in May and legislative elections in October. Under these conditions, inflation is likely to accelerate and the twin deficits to widen, albeit without compromising the country’s macroeconomic stability.
    Singapore is highly vulnerable to contagion effects of US trade hikes on Chinese imports due to its large dependence on tech exports and integration Asian value chains. Exports have contracted since last November and economic growth has slowed. Monetary policy tightening, which started last year, should pause in the short term while the government is expected to increase public spending to support activity. Its fiscal room for maneuver is significant given the strength of public finances. This will also enable the authorities to continue to implement their strategy aimed at stimulating innovation, enhance productivity and improve Singapore’s medium-term economic growth prospects.
    GDP growth rebounded in 2018, buoyed by higher copper prices and the renewed confidence of investors following the election of Sebastian Piñera. Over the course of his mandate, President Piñera’s ambition is to implement fiscal policies that will boost growth and stimulate investment while consolidating public finances, but this could prove to be harder to achieve than expected. The president’s party lacks a congressional majority, and is struggling to push through the fiscal and pension system reforms that have been presented so far. Even so, economic growth prospects will remain rather favourable over the next two years and fiscal consolidation should continue.
    Colombia is coming off a four year macroeconomic adjustment, orchestrated by a large terms of trade shock following the end of the commodity super cycle in 2014. Colombia made a number of policy adjustments to deal with the shock and since 2017, the economy has largely corrected allowing the current account balance to narrow, the fiscal balance to improve and inflation to converge towards the target. However, the intensification of the Venezuelan migrant crisis is challenging fiscal accounts. President Duque’s pledge to make adjustments to the 2016 peace agreement represents a source of risk to the security environment. Meanwhile, the economic slowdown has bottomed out in 2018. Growth is set to accelerate in 2019 but will remain modest.
    Nigeria is having a hard time recovering from the 2014 oil shock. Although the economy has pulled out of recession, growth remains sluggish at 1.9% in 2018. Moreover, the central bank’s recent decision to cut its key policy rate is unlikely to change much. With inflation holding at high levels, it is still too early to anticipate further monetary easing. Defending the currency peg is another constraint at a time when the stability of the external accounts is still fragile. Between soaring debt interest payments and the very low mobilisation of public resources, there is only limited fiscal manoeuvring room. It is hard to imagine a rapid economic turnaround without the intensification of reforms.
    After the appeasement of political tensions in the aftermath of the presidential election rerun, the improved political environment has led to a stabilization of Kenya’s macroeconomic situation. The president's "Big Four" agenda for boosting growth and development spending will shape economic policy during the next five years. But the Kenyan sovereign still faces the serious challenges of fiscal consolidation and the high government debt level that weighs on investors’ appetite for risk. In the meanwhile, the recent High Court suspension of the contentious policy issue of an interest rate cap on bank lending should probably speed up a further agreement with the IMF, which is vital to reduce the borrowing cost burden in a context of increasing financing needs.
    Due to the country’s economic development, the agricultural sector is in relative decline as a share of GDP. Moreover, investment in agriculture is fairly sluggish. Yet the sector still plays a decisive role in food security in Egypt, a country where demographic growth is strong and households are highly sensitive to food prices. The agri-food sector also has an impact on macroeconomic fundamentals, including inflation, foreign trade and the public accounts. For Egypt, like the rest of the region, water resources are a major issue. Yet in Egypt’s case, this issue is especially crucial given the uncertainty that looms over the waters of the Nile and their availability for agriculture in the medium term.
    Real GDP growth will remain weak this year due to expected cut in oil production. Non-oil GDP should get a boost from public expenditure, especially investment spending, and from a slight growth in private consumption. Inflationary pressures could increase slightly but will remain moderate. High fiscal surpluses are funnelled into the sovereign funds, which guarantee the Emirate’s long-term solvency. Faced with this situation, the government has little incentive to set up fiscal consolidation measures. High and recurrent trade and current account surpluses ensure the stability of the dinar.
    Emerging - 24 January 2019
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    In emerging and developing countries, debt has become a recurrent theme that pops up whenever financial conditions tighten and/or economic activity slows. The IMF recently published a blog post on the subject with a rather alarming title. Granted, the combined impact of several factors, namely the downward revision of growth forecasts, a stronger dollar and the normalisation/tightening of monetary policies that have been rather accommodating until now, will increase the weight of the debt burden. Yet not very many countries are at high risk of debt distress, and there is little probability that debt will trigger a systemic credit crisis, even though the risk has increased for the most vulnerable countries.
    Economic growth slowed to 6.6% in 2018 from 6.8% in 2017 and should continue to decelerate in the short term. The extent of the slowdown will depend on the still highly uncertain evolution of trade tensions between China and the United States as well as on Beijing’s counter-cyclical policy measures. However, the central bank’s manoeuvring room is severely constrained by the economy’s excessive debt burden and the threat of capital outflows. Moreover, whereas Beijing has pursued efforts to improve financial regulation and the health of state-owned companies over the past two years, its new priorities increase the risk of interruption in this clean-up process. Faced with this situation, the central government will have to make greater use of fiscal stimulus measures.
    India’s economic growth slowed between July and September 2018, hard hit by the increase in the oil bill. The sharp decline in oil prices since October will ease pressures, at least temporarily, on public finances and the balance of payments, and in turn on the Indian rupee (INR), which depreciated by 9% against the dollar in 2018. In a less favourable economic environment, Narendra Modi’s BJP party lost its hold on three states during recent legislative elections.
    The election of Jair Bolsonaro at the presidency of Brazil has marked a swing to the right, the weakening of traditional political parties and a return of the military to national politics. The new administration faces the challenges of rapidly engaging its fiscal reform, gaining the trust of foreign investors while reconciling ideological differences across its ranks. How society will adjust to a new era of liberal economic policy remains the greatest unknown. Meanwhile, the economy is still recovering at a slow pace. Supply-side indicators continue to show evidence of idle capacity while labour market conditions have yet to markedly improve. Sentiment indicators have shown large upswings in recent months which should help build some momentum in economic activity over Q1 2019.
    In 2018, Russia swung back into growth and a fiscal surplus, increased its current account surplus and created a defeasance structure to clean up the banking sector. The “new” Putin government affirmed its determination to boost the potential growth rate by raising the retirement age and launching a vast public spending programme for the next six years. Yet the economy faces increasing short-term risks. Monetary tightening and the 1 January VAT increase could hamper growth. There is also the risk of tighter US sanctions, which could place more downward pressure on the rouble.    
    With the approach of municipal elections on 31 March, which will be another key test for the government, major manoeuvres have been launched on both the macroeconomic and geopolitical fronts to stimulate activity and advance a foreign policy agenda (notably in Syria) at the expense of diplomatic tensions with the US. The financial strain has soothed since the currency crisis in August 2018, but cyclical conditions have deteriorated. We seem to be heading for a recession scenario lasting several quarters, with the financial weakness of many non-financial corporates being a main concern. The rapid narrowing in the current account deficit and the disinflationary process initiated in recent months attest to the scope of the macroeconomic currently underway.
    Hungary’s macroeconomic situation provides a good illustration of how Central Europe is flourishing economically, but has jettisoned some of the principles of liberal democracy, which is the crucible of the European Union. Hungary’s real GDP growth is estimated at an average of 4.5% in 2018, the highest level since 2004 and higher than its long-term potential. Endogenous and exogenous factors announce a downturn in the economic cycle in the quarters ahead. Yet there is nothing alarming about the expected deterioration in macroeconomic fundamentals in the short to medium term.
    Economic growth in Serbia has accelerated since 2017, fuelled by consumption and investment. Inflation is still mild thanks to the appreciation of the dinar. This favourable environment has produced a fiscal surplus that gives the government some flexibility. The public debt is narrowing, even though it is still relatively high and vulnerable to exchange rate fluctuations and the appetite of international investors. Several factors continue to strain the potential growth rate of the Serbian economy, including unfavourable demographic trends, the slow pace of public sector reforms, and a tough political environment.
    The strength of internal demand remains the main engine of economic activity, which is growing at over 3% per year. This is feeding through into a resurgence of inflationary pressures, although these have been very modest so far. The budget deficit is growing but it remains within the limits set by the government. International trade is seeing some significant shifts. A loss of momentum in goods exports has reduced Israeli products’ market share; at the same time exports of hi-tech services have become the real driving force behind the country’s international trade. Changes in oil prices continue to be a key determinant of the current account balance, despite the exploitation of gas resources.
    Calm has returned to Argentina’s financial markets since the end of September 2018. The peso has levelled off after depreciating 50% against the dollar in the first 9 months of the year. The central bank finally managed to loosen its grip after raising its key policy rate by 70%. Restored calm can largely be attributed to IMF support, but it comes at a high cost: a strictly quantitative monetary policy and the balancing of the primary deficit as of 2019. The economy slid into recession in Q2 2018 and is likely to remain there through mid-2019. So far, the recession has not eroded the country’s fiscal performance, the trade balance has swung back into positive territory and inflation has peaked. Yet will that be enough to restore confidence before October’s elections?
    The elections promised by the military regime ever since it took power in 2014 are finally slated to be held in 2019. Yet this does not mean that the political and social crisis has been resolved: the ruling junta intends to remain in power without providing a veritable solution for “national reconciliation”. From an economic perspective, short-term prospects are still upbeat. The Thai economy will be hit by the slowdown in China, but thanks to dynamic domestic demand, growth should approach its long-term potential this year. In the long term, in contrast, the outlook continues to deteriorate as the political environment holds back the economy’s growth potential.
    Export and real GDP growth have started to suffer from US-China trade tensions and from the mounting difficulties of China’s external trade sector. Taiwan is highly exposed to this type of external shocks due to its heavy reliance on exports of tech products to the Chinese and US markets. However, Taiwan is also well-armed to absorb shocks. External accounts and public finances are strong, and the authorities have a good margin of leeway to act. They are expected to maintain accommodative monetary and fiscal policies in order to stimulate domestic demand in the short term, and should continue some structural reform measures aimed at improving Taiwan’s longer-term economic prospects.
    In late 2017, the authorities decided to resort to direct financing of the Treasury by the central bank to stabilise a dangerously deteriorating macroeconomic situation. The injection of funds helped rebuild bank liquidity via the reimbursement of the debt of state-owned companies. In the absence of a real fiscal impulse, and thanks to prudent monetary policy, inflation remains under control. Without structural adjustments, however, the situation could become very risky.

On the Same Theme

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.
A sudden chill 5/18/2018
In recent years, emerging market issuers, in particular corporates, have raised huge amounts of USD debt, thereby increasing their sensitivity to an appreciation of the dollar. Rising US treasury yields, a sudden strengthening of the dollar and country-specific issues have triggered considerable portfolio outflows and a weakening of emerging currencies.
Weak links 5/14/2018
The IMF reports published in mid-April insist once again on the external financial vulnerability and indebtedness of the emerging and developing countries. The potential risks are highly focused on the low-income countries. But large emerging economies, Argentina, Egypt and South Africa also show many weaknesses...
Rebound in GDP growth in Malaysia 3/9/2018
In Q4-17, real GDP growth in Malaysia reached +5.8% y-o-y (+0.9% Q/Q) and was above expectations and long-term average. Economic activity was driven by the dynamism of households’ consumption due notably to the decline in inflationary pressures (+3.6% y-o-y in Q4-17).

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