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  May 14th, 2016 | Written by

Emerging Markets: A Big Drag on the Global Economy

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A confluence of conditions, from currency valuations to commodity prices and from political turmoil to China’s economic slowdown all paint a sobering picture for emerging market economies.

So much so, that Win Thin, global head of emerging markets at the investments firm Brown Brothers Harriman, contends that International Monetary Fund projections for global growth this year may be overstated. The IMF’s projection for 2016 global growth is 3.8 percent.

Thin spoke at the 2016 Country Risk Conference convened by the global trade credit insurer Coface earlier this month in New York.

The IMF is too optimistic on global growth,” said Thin. “IMF forecasts for global growth are higher than the market consensus.”

The emerging markets boom the world saw between 2003 and 2014 is now clearly reversed. That period of unprecedented growth was built on four pillars, according to Thin: a weak U.S. dollar, low U.S. interest rates, strong global growth, and high commodity prices.

Those conditions are now all gone, leading to an emerging markets bust that began in 2014. The U.S. dollar is strong, U.S. interest rates are on their way up, global growth has slowed, and commodity prices have tumbled.

So far in 2016, Coface has issued 12 negative country risk rating actions for emerging market economies, as against a single upgrade. Low commodity prices are taking a toll on Malaysia, Brazil, Russia, the UAE, Qatar, Venezuela, South Africa, and Mexico.

Coface has issued 31 negative—versus four positive country risk rating actions in so-called frontier markets, where low commodity prices are negatively impacting the economies of Angola, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kazakhstan, Bahrain, Trinidad & Tobago, Nigeria, Kuwait, Mozambique, Gabon, Congo, and Botswana.

However, these “ratings could stabilize if the recent bounce in commodities is sustained,” Thin noted.

Political risks also abound in the developing world, Thin noted. Brazil is undergoing an impeachment process against President Rousseff, Venezuela is in the throes of economic crisis and political infighting,  and South Africa’s President Zuma is under fire for corruption, to name but a few ongoing scenarios.

China is a case unto itself, where the slowdown is taking its toll on international trade. “China is no longer the global engine of growth and commodity demand,” said Thin.

China’s growth rate has slowed from over 12 percent in 2013 to under seven percent. It is worth noting, as pointed out by Stuart Bergman, deputy chief economist at Export Development Canada, another Coface conference participant that, even at five percent, the growth in China’s gross domestic product is still enormous

“At that rate, China is producing another Italy every six months,” said Bergman.

The danger, according to Thin, is that “markets are likely underestimating China’s slowdown.” “China’s structural slowdown will continue,” he added. “There will be no hard landing, but there will be a longer and deeper slowdown.”