The next economic powerhouses

January 10, 2014 - 6:33:59 am

LONDON: First it was the Brics. For a while the Civets were in vogue. Now the Mints are the ones to watch. Confused? Well, once you know your acronyms it all becomes clear.

The Brics are Brazil, Russia, India and China — four emerging economies lumped together in 2001 by Jim O’Neill, then at Goldman Sachs, to show that western investors needed to take notice of what was happening in the post-cold war global economy.

Robert Ward, of the Economist Intelligence Unit, linked Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt and Turkey but the Civets never really took off. Now O’Neill is championing the Mints, a name first coined by the fund managers Fidelity, for what he thinks will be the second generation of emerging market pace-setters: Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey.

The Mints share some common features. They all have big and growing populations with plentiful supplies of young workers. That should help them grow fast when ageing and shrinking populations will lead inexorably to slower growth rates in many developed countries (and China) over the coming decades.

And they are nicely placed geographically to take advantage of large markets nearby, with Indonesia close to China, Turkey on the edge of the European Union and Mexico on America’s doorstep.

Nigeria’s geographical advantages are less immediately obvious, although it does have the potential to become the hub of Africa’s economy at a time when the continent is enjoying a sustained period of strong expansion.

Strong growth in Asia has pushed up demand for the fuel and raw materials needed for industrialisation and three of the Mints — Mexico, Indonesia and Nigeria — are leading commodity producers. Of the four, only Nigeria is not already a member of the G20 group of developed and developing countries.

Even so, financial markets are wary about treating what is actually a disparate group of countries as a bloc. If the Brics are now a bit old hat, it is in part because their reputations are a little tarnished.

Western investors who piled into Bric stock markets expecting to make a packet have had their fingers burned and in recent years would have done better keeping their money at home. Only China has really lived up to the growth hype and is now the world’s second biggest economy.

But even then stock market performance has been weak and there are now concerns that attempts by Beijing to move to an economic model less dependent on credit will lead to a hard landing in 2014.

At one point India looked likely to rival China as the emerging market powerhouse but it had a wretched 2013, suffering from high inflation, a rising current account deficit and a run on the rupee.

Russia is seen as over-dependent on its oil and gas sector and unfriendly towards foreign investors; Brazil, like many other emerging economies, proved vulnerable to hot money flows.

Tanweer Akram, economist at ING Investment Management, notes that investors pulled back from several emerging markets last year and are likely to be discriminating in the future, reducing exposure to “countries that are vulnerable on the basis of current account deficit, inflation above target and muted growth”.

Turkey and Indonesia are both countries where the bullish investor mood of a couple of years ago has been replaced by a more cautious approach. Of the two, Turkey is the more immediate concern, with the International Monetary Fund calling late last year for interest rates to be raised by 2.5 percentage points to tackle 8 percent inflation.

Nigeria is seen as more attractive in part because it has shown strong growth despite its long-term structural problems: power shortages, corruption and a poor education system.

The markets like the market-friendly reforms in Mexico and see it, rather than Brazil, as Latin America’s best bet. Even so, Mexico’s fortunes are closely linked to those of its powerful neighbour across the Rio Grande.

In one sense, the very notion of Brics and Mints is helpful. It illustrates the way in which the economic balance of power has shifted from the developed to the developing world over the past 20 years and will continue to do so over the next 20.

In Nigeria’s case, it illustrates the possibility that the next “tiger” economies could well be in Africa. But it is well to remember that the countries are only grouped together because they make a neat acronym. They are all different; the suggestion that they are not is Colombia, Oman, Burundi, Botswana, Laos, Egypt, Romania, Sudan.

The Guardian

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