Tuesday, May 28, 2013

From emerging to submerging

Much excitement has been generated by the emerging markets because this is where economic growth is at a time when other markets are in doldrums. Can these markets avoid the problems of a world facing a synchronised economic depression?

The Wall Street Journal has produced several charts (see below) that compare the debt growth of selected advanced economies with those of emerging economies. For the advanced economies, their debt as a percentage of their GDP is declining while that of emerging economies is still growing. This disparity accounts for the seemingly sanguine prospects of the emerging economies.

But take a deeper look into the debt growth and you can discern a clear pattern. The advanced economies have moved further along the debt growth S-curves. The emerging economies are lagging behind but they are all approaching turning points of their respective S-curves. Don't be lulled by the low government debts of these emerging economies. Their precarious situations lie in their private debts. Most of these debts are being used to finance property booms since their export machines have faltered in the face of global excess capacity and falling consumption.

The next chart (from The Financial Times) compares the current situations of the emerging countries with that prior to the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Some of these countries are facing debt situations that are worse than those in 1997. Yet the picture is still incomplete since it doesn't incorporate bond and shadow banking debts. In 1997, they were rescued by the US economy which pumped increasing credit to generate the consumption that offloaded the exports of these struggling emerging economies. Now the US economy itself is under considerable strain. There's no saviour this time around. Instead of emerging prosperity, it's emerging  calamity that is staring in the face of these countries.

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