General

The analysis of emerging countries in the light of the Russian war

Thursday, April 7th, 2022

The analysis of emerging markets is traditionally part of my lectures and generally not changing very much from year to year. However, this year (and beyond?) is different. A kind of limited global downturn was already in the cards last fall for the forthcoming quarters. But the Russian war makes the outlook for the global economy both worse and more uncertain about both depth and length of the downturn. The world is indeed confronted with the abominable black swan.

The spillover to emerging markets

Also emerging markets all over the world are affected badly by the ongoing terrible war development in the heart of Europe. There are clear spillover effects on the less advanced countries as well. Of course, the Ukraine and Russia itself are hit the most. But there are many other countries in the emerging world that are now meeting worsening conditions that are directly or indirectly linked to the Russian war.

When considering the already existing economic troubles before the eruption of the war Russian war, the timing for the commenced war in February could not be less favorable for emerging countries. But emerging countries are not equally hit by all the deteriorating political and economic developments. In very general terms, one may say that less advanced countries far away with, for example, energy and food resources tend to be better off than countries with corresponding shortages. Altogether, more details should be examined.

Reliable calculations are currently not possible     

I feel pretty sure about the conclusion that accurate point forecasts for individual emerging countries and emerging regions currently are not possible – at least not without precise assumptions about uncertain parameters like the supposed depth and length of the war, energy and other commodity prices and – not to forget – transports and delivery times.

However, when a major event like a big war in Europe happens with a military superpower involved, our models do not work anymore because of the lacking historical experience in a comparable war. Using another one or two different assumption baskets about depth and length of the war, a number of different scenarios could be developed. But still, we are not talking about a forecast. Instead, it is about scenarios.

Thus, further studies on war developments with impact on emerging markets would be beneficial. More can be found.

Influence on emerging markets due to the war

Initially, it would be useful to single out a number of different negative global developments that already had shown up globally in 2021. Here we find

  • rising global inflation, interest rate hikes not far away,
  • rapidly rising energy prices,
  • insufficient supply of chips, other IT components, metals plus transport bottlenecks,
  • since last fall worsening GDP forecasts for the beginning of 2022.

What we now can see as a further consequence of the war, are currently worsening trends for several of the negative developments from last year

—>  more inflation (coming from energy, agricultural products, metals, intermediate IT-goods, transport bottlenecks)

—>  further and/or faster global/American interest rate hikes than anticipated some months ago (means higher costs for emerging countries borrowing in foreign / American currency)

—>  higher American interest rates may mean a stronger dollar (which would lead to higher costs for many emerging markets since most foreign credits by emerging countries have been taken up in dollars)

—>  clear weakening GDP growth both in advanced and emerging countries.

—>  slowing FDI from Western companies in emerging countries as a result of increasing general uncertainty and risk aversion.

Conclusion 1: The foreign debt situation will remain an increasingly important indicator for emerging countries (https://databank.worldbank.org/source/quarterly-external-debt-statistics-gdds). Check it out!

Major producers of oil, gas, agricultural products etc., are, of course, better off than less developed countries that need to import a lot of these commodities. Commodity production at home and imports from abroad are other important factors that should be considered when emerging countries are analyzed, particularly now during the Russian war (https://www.worldbank.org/en/research/commodity-markets).

Conclusion 2: Also commodities play an important role for the development of many emerging countries, particularly during the Russian war.

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board

 

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RCEP – benefiting from “America first”

Monday, November 16th, 2020

Only yesterday – on October 15 – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement finally was signed after eight years of complicated negotiations, altogether over 30 rounds. https://asean.org/storage/2020/11/Summary-of-the-RCEP-Agreement.pdf

These negotiations included the ten already co-operating ASEAN trading partners: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam and the five “deal newcomers” of China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. These countries amount to as much as 2.2 billion people or around 30 percent of the global population and GDP.

Without more detailed information right now one may conclude that RCEP – after all national ratifications – will be the starting point for the largest free trade zone in the world. Initially, President Obama and the U.S. wanted to be part of the negotiations as well. This plan was shattered by President Trump and his “America first” policy; certainly not a good idea – not even for the U.S. itself.

Comments – the U.S. and the EU in a weakened position (Sweden included) 

¤ Right now: China the main winner – the U.S. and the EU the main losers.
No further explanation is needed to underline that China clearly sticks out as the most powerful economic player of the 15 RCEP countries – in regions geographically not too far away and, consequently, already China’s main trading partners when summarizing the whole RCEP area. The objective of the trade agreement is to include over 90 percent of all traded goods for free trade and roughly two thirds of all cross-border traded services according to the following official source: https://www.mti.gov.sg/-/media/MTI/Newsroom/Press-Releases/2020/11/Press-Release-on-the-Regional-Comprehensive-Economic-Partnership-Signing.pdf.

However, some applicable time horizon cannot be found in available documents. Usually, it takes quite some years until major trade agreements have come into place completely.

¤ Really “fait accompli”?
Currently, I do not see toughly pressing obstacles for the introduction and – later on – continuation of the RCEP. However, new events sometimes change things. We still do not know about the speed of the complete abolition of all the different tariffs – may be much more slowly than many experts assume today.

Furthermore: Will President (Elect) Biden work for an American joining later on which would include new negotiations? We never know. But we probably can expect that Biden will be looking for (somewhat) more relaxed relations to China –whatever this may lead to.

¤ The EU needs much more cross-border co-operation in Asia – but not with India or China.
The EU’s trade with the expanding 14 RCEP states (China excl) is, of course, much more limited than China’s. In my view, only a much more co-operative EU will have a chance of really successfully being able to compete with China in the other RCEP countries.

However, it would be wrong to see India as an alternative to the RCEP. The answer can only be RCEP and India which has been suggested. Besides, India has been invited again to join the RCEP. This is not in line with current Indian ambitions – but who knows what will happen in 10 years or so?

¤  Return to a multilateral trade treaty – indeed good news.
In recent decades China and the U.S. have developed more and more into promoters of bilateral trade agreements. Theory and research, however, prefer clearly multinational trade deals.

The RCEP finally means a step into the right policy direction!

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board

 

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The corona conundrum in China

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

Frågor om Kinas corona-återhämtning

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Sammanfattning på svenska / summary in Swedish 

Kommunikation från det officiella Kina har tveklöst präglats av påtagliga brister vid en historisk tillbakablick. Själv har jag uppmärksammat detta problem framför allt vid BNP-analyser. Min slutsats var vid upprepade tillfällen att denna historiska malus kan hänga kvar under ansenlig tid även när kommunikation och statistisk kvalitet verkligen förbättrats. Därför verkar det svårt att aktuellt kunna bedöma lätt optimistiska kinesiska ställningstaganden kring coronaviruset. Jag har en del historiskt betingade tvivel. Förhoppningsvis har jag fel, för Kinas och hela världens skull.

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English version

“It’s only make believe” was one the nicest songs in the 1960s, performed by the British popstar Billy Fury. This song came into my mind this morning when I started my readings and reflections on the Chinese economy. Is it really only make believe when it comes to Chinese reports on the corona virus and the described strong return to work and production?

Of course, I wished it were so – for the sake of China itself and the rest of the world. However, I still have – right or wrong – a serious trust problem when looking at current statistics and comments from China. This is a trust problem mainly based on historical experience. At different occasions, I have been pointing in the past at the risk that, for example, China’s obvious long-lasting shortcomings in GDP-statistics will make it difficult to recognize or appreciate really achieved progress in communication and statistical reporting.

The return to work and production

Chinese media report these days more and more about a sizeable and strong supply chain recovery. This is an area all neutral external and/or foreign observers cannot have a distinct opinion on. Hopefully, this is the case. However, such a phenomenon still would not say anything about future production plans. Demand itself from many countries still may be alive right now but may be shrinking onward because of more dampened or reduced growth in many countries.

The enormous and sudden drop of new corona cases

Currently, China has around 81 000 reported corona-infected people. Almost 69 000 are statistically totally recovered https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/. This is the highest share among the most strongly affected countries as far as I can note – but I cannot have a strong opinion on this issue since China was the first affected country. What surprises me more are the extremely low numbers of new corana cases in China. I really do not know what conclusion on this number may be appropriate.

Avoidance of a recession – still a realistic scenario?

Hope of a visible recovery later this year is still alive in China – not only in official statements. But I really wonder what official GDP statistics will show for the first and second quarter. Indicators for the first quarter are indeed worrying. In February, the PMI has dropped dramatically. So did, for example, retail sales (minus 20.5 % yoy in Jan-Feb), fixed investments (minus 24.5 % yoy in Jan-Feb), and industrial production (minus13.5 % yoy Jan-Feb) – a crash also when considering the special circumstances.

My impression is that China’s GDP development in the first quarter 2020 in both real terms and in reality was in negative territory (somewhere between a slight or a more recognizable minus). I emphasize the chosen word of “impression” because it is really impossible to be more precise right now.

For the first time since quite some time it has become hard to make a forecast on Chinese quarterly GDP growth. Do Chinese decision-makers prefer an understandable major drop in order to praise a possible sizeable recovery later on – or do they prefer a more even growth development downward as they did in the past? Or a position somewhere in between – which actually is my view?

Summary: Altogther, there is no doubt that the official China will do everything to show that the economy is on the right track again when the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Communist Party will be celebrated in 2021. However: to make this really credible, recognizable progress should be visible also at the end of this celebrated century, i.e. by the end of this year!

Back to Billy Fury: It is not only make believe anymore…

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board

 

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