Dani Rodrik has a short, clear post on (a) why countries are tempted to engage in protectionism during recessions and (b) why they shouldn’t. It only uses 1st-semester macroeconomics. The bottom line is that the preferred outcome is for all countries to engage in fiscal stimulus at the same time. The hitch is that most of the developing world can’t afford to. The implication is that it is in the interests of the wealthy countries to find a way to support the developing world.
Tag Archives: Emerging Markets
So, the global economy is falling apart, but not in the way people expected. Under the de facto arrangement sometimes known as “Bretton Woods II,” emerging market countries pegged (officially or unofficially) their currencies to developed world currencies at artificially low rates, having the effect of promoting exports and discouraging consumption by emerging market countries and promoting consumption and discouraging exports in developed countries. Of course, the classic example of this was China and the U.S. The U.S. trade deficit and Chinese trade surplus created a surplus of dollars in China, which were invested in U.S. Treasuries and agency bonds, keeping interest rates low and indirectly financing the U.S. housing bubble and consumption binge of the last decade (and, therefore, growth in Chinese exports).
The general fear was that U.S. indebtedness would lead China to diversify away from U.S. assets, causing the dollar to fall and U.S. interest rates to rise, hurting the U.S. economy and making it harder to finance the national debt. This may yet happen someday. But instead of demand for Treasuries collapsing, it’s been demand for every other type of asset that has fallen. Treasury yields have collapsed and the dollar has appreciated about 20%. Still, despite this increased purchasing power, the fall in U.S. (and global) consumption is having a severe impact on growth of the Chinese economy. Even though the Chinese government has signaled that it will do everything in its power to keep growth above 8% per year (down from 11-12% in the past few years), the slowdown has severely constrained the ability of the urban manufacturing sector to absorb internal migration from the countryside, and there are signs of a reverse migration that is aggravating the problem of rural poverty in China. Although China may seem to have all the cards – high economic growth, large foreign currency reserves – it could yet turn out to be a major loser of the global economic crisis.
GM, mortgage restructuring, and the G20 have sucked up most of the attention recently, but the crisis continues to take its toll around the world. A few vignettes:
- In Ukraine, industrial production in October fell by 7.6% from September (that’s not an annualized rate) and 19.8% from October 2007.
- Russia’s second-largest coal company reported that its Q4 sales would be only one-third the planned level – and that payments from its steelmaker customers since September were only 21% of the value of shipments.
- Credit default swap spreads on Greek sovereign debt are up over 160 bp – higher than at the previous peak in mid-October. (Note that Greece is in both the EU and the Eurozone.)
On the “plus” side, Pakistan and the IMF agreed on a $7.6 billion loan, ensuring economic stability in a particularly important part of the world – at least for a few months. Pakistan’s government says they need a total of $10-15 billion.
The emerging markets rout continues: Russia, she of the $500 billion war chest of foreign currency reserves, spent 19% of those reserves trying to fight off a currency devaluation. Today, Russia didn’t quite give up the fight, but conceded some ground, widening the allowed trading range and at the same time increasing interest rates. Just goes to show: fighting those nasty currency speculators rarely works, if ever.
(Thanks to Free Exchange for catching this.)
Hard economic times have political consequences, many of them unfortunate.
In Argentina, we’ve already seen the government nationalize the private pension system in what many believe to be a naked grab for cash with only a distant relationship to the rule of law.
In Russia, a central government with a war chest of over $500 billion in foreign currency reserves (at least when the crisis started) now has the power to determine which of the billionaire oligarchs will survive and which will be bankrupted. Yesterday the government provided $2 billion (WSJ, subscription required) to the Alfa Group, Mikhail Fridman’s conglomerate, to avoid save him from giving up his 44% stake in a cellular carrier to Deutsche Bank. On Friday, another billionaire will have to come up with $4.5 billion to avoid giving up 25% of the metals company OAO Norilsk Nickel to Western banks including Merrill Lynch and Royal Bank of Scotland, and will likely turn to the government.
Arguably the government’s power in this situation is analogous to the powers the US has granted to the Treasury Department to choose winners in the financial sector. Still, given the other things we know about Russian politics, it is not too far-fetched to see government money used to protect Vladimir Putin’s political allies, impoverish his opponents or nationalize their assets, and keep Russian assets out of Western hands. (Whether the government will have enough money for the job is another question.)
Another likely reaction of governments faced by financial and economic crisis is a return to (or, in many cases, an increase in) protectionism. Richard Baldwin describes how the current state of global trade agreements makes this not only possible but likely, further hurting the global economy.
Arvind Subramanian has a new article on the financial crisis in emerging markets. He focuses on some of the differences between the 1997-98 crisis and the present day. For one, increased global trade makes emerging markets more susceptible to economic conditions in wealthy nations – and, as we all know, those conditions are considerably worse now than ten years ago.
The increasing damage the global financial crisis is inflicting on emerging markets has been getting a lot of attention lately (those are four separate links, for those with time on their hands), much of it very thoughtful. I would like to immodestly point out that my co-authors Simon and Peter were early to call this one (along with Nouriel Roubini, no doubt), in an op-ed in Forbes.com back on October 12.
That aside, it seems more and more likely that we are witnessing a repeat of 1997-98, just on a grander scale. Credit default swaps on Russian sovereign debt are trading at over 1,000 basis points, which essentially means that investors think the country is more likely to default than not – this just months after the high price of oil seemed to make Russia a dominant regional economic power, and just weeks after Russia was negotiating to lend money to Iceland (as of a couple days ago, it was still possible that Russia would participate in the IMF bailout of Iceland). Argentina, as Simon pointed out earlier, has the honor of being the first country to expropriate private property under the cover of the financial crisis. The Economist published a chart showing CDS spreads on sovereign debt across Eastern Europe showing that Ukraine, the Baltics, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria are all at risk. (Many of those spreads are already much higher than in the chart: Ukraine at 2617 bp, Russia at 1038, Turkey at 775, the Baltics between 650 and 1000.) Hungary in particular is showing eerie echoes of 1997-98, as the government takes emergency steps, including increasing interests rates by three full percentage points, to combat speculators betting that the currency will fall – a battle that few countries were able to win a decade ago.