Emerging markets may yet pay dearly for the sins of their richer cousins. While recent financial crises have been rooted in the United States and euro zone, analysts at Credit Agricole are questioning whether a full-fledged emerging markets crisis could be on the horizon, the first since the series of crashes from Argentina to Turkey over a decade ago. The concern stems from the worsening balance of payments picture across the developing world and the need to plug big funding shortfalls.
The above chart from Credit Agricole shows that as recently as 2006, the 34 big emerging economies ran a cumulative current account surplus of 5.2 percent of GDP. By end-2011 that had dwindled to 1.7 percent of GDP. More worrying yet is the position of “deficit” economies. The current account gap here has widened to 4 percent of GDP, more than double 2006 levels and the biggest since the 1980s. The difficulties are unlikely to disappear this year, Credit Agricole says, predicting India, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, Vietnam, Poland and Romania to run current account deficits of over 4 percent this year.
Some fiscally profligate countries such as India may have mainly themselves to blame for their plight. But in general, emerging nations after the Lehman crisis were forced to embark on massive spending to buck up domestic consumption and offset the collapse of Western export markets. For this reason, many were unable to raise interest rates or did so too late. As the woes of the Turkish lira and Indian rupee showed last year, the yawning funding gap leaves many countries horribly exposed to the vagaries of global risk appetite.
There are some supportive factors however. The Fed’s signal this week that U.S. interest rates are unlikely to rise before 2014 shows that central banks in Europe and the United States will continue to gush money for now. So there should be enough cash available to plug the gaps in emerging nations’ balance sheets. Second, as growth eases, so will the deficits. For these reasons, Credit Agricole says the market will be forgiving of large current account deficits this year. But it warned:
What will happen once (developed market) rates are raised is another story, and emerging markets would better have fixed their main imbalances when the global monetary normalisation begins.