Today we take a look at which countries have best weathered the global recession and credit crunch. All economies have been affected by the crisis, but a combination of policy responses and strong fundamentals has given some countries, especially some emerging market economies, a relative edge. These same strengths could lead the countries we highlight below to perform better as the global recovery begins, even if their growth rates remain well below 2003-2007 trends.
What commonalities are visible among these countries? One major theme is that they tended to have lower financial vulnerabilities due to more restrictive regulation and less developed financial markets, as well as larger and stronger domestic markets that sustained domestic demand. Moreover, they had the resources to engage in counter-cyclical fiscal and monetary policies, actions that were not possible in past crises. In contrast, countries that borrowed heavily to finance domestic consumption in the days of easy money are now facing sharp economic contractions. Despite the relative strength of these countries, however, their ability to return to sustained growth will depend on structural reforms that support consumption.
A couple countries in Latin America have thus far been able to weather this crisis better than their neighbors. Brazil and Peru stand out for their relatively healthy fundamentals and financial systems. Both countries have benefitted from being relatively closed economies and from having diversified export markets and products. They also took advantage of the boom years (2003-2008), reducing external vulnerabilities and increasing savings (fiscal and international reserves). By the time the crisis hit, both countries had well regulated financial systems that saved them from being contaminated by toxic assets. The fact that their domestic credit markets are at an early development stage (so consumption is not very dependent on credit) helped them shelter internal demand. Finally, these countries enjoyed strong policy credibility.
The Brazilian economy is definitely showing signs of resilience, given the massive adjustments among the developed economies. As early as Q1 2009, GDP data showed signs of resilient consumption despite the contraction in investments and the collapse of the industrial sector. Throughout the second quarter, manufacturing continued to show very weak performance vis-à-vis 2008 levels, although the sector has shown some tentative signs of improvement on a monthly basis. In the meantime, the retail sector continues slowly to adjust to a much less favorable environment than in 2008, and sales growth keeps on moderating—due to slower real income growth and a challenging credit atmosphere. Yet consumer confidence, which has now almost returned to pre-crisis levels, could support consumption, despite the labor market losses to come. The central bank’s own assessment of the state of the economy suggests that the monetary and fiscal stimuli will remain in place to help the recovery process. The fiscal packages for infrastructure and the housing sector, as well as the tax breaks to the auto industry and capital goods sales, should in part support the labor markets and the expansion of domestic production.
Peru’s economic performance has been relatively strong compared to its global and regional peers despite slowing sharply. In fact, Peru’s economy continued to grow in Q1 2009, with domestic confidence holding up and real lending to the private sector keeping growth at high levels. Construction projects continued, and the currency did not experience sharp fluctuations. Although Peru’s economy might contract mildly in Q2 and Q3 2009 due to tardy monetary policy actions and slow implementation of fiscal stimulus (an infrastructure development program), these programs are likely to take hold and prompt the economy to bounce back by the end of the year. A high level of international reserves also helped the central bank avoid destabilizing currency movements and properly provide liquidity to the financial system. Moreover, previous liability management operations helped Peru to reduce risks associated with maturity and currency mismatches, and to reduce external debt.
Australia narrowly escaped a technical recession by force of luck and policy. Despite a slowdown in global manufacturing activity, China and other emerging markets continued to tap Australia’s abundant natural resources, boosting Australia’s net exports in 2009. Meanwhile, a leap in fiscal spending and a reduction in policy interest rates prevented a sharp falloff in consumer spending and housing prices. Thanks to resilience in Australia’s twin pillars of growth – exports and domestic demand – expenditure GDP growth turned positive in Q1 2009. Production and income measures of GDP nevertheless indicate Australia is effectively in recession, but the good news is that the bottoming of production around the world suggests Australia will avoid technical recession this year and that its effective recession will be brief. (For more, see Australia Effectively, Though Not Technically, in Recession.)
China’s aggressive fiscal and monetary stimulus helped reaccelerate growth in H1 2009 from a near stall at the end of 2008. Manufacturing is expanding, new orders are up, and the property market correction has been clipped. Yet it remains uncertain whether the government’s response merely bought time. China’s stimulus adds its own risks, including those of asset bubbles, overcapacity and non-performing loans. Yet there are some signs that, supported by government incentives, domestic demand has been stronger than anticipated. A sustained increase in consumption, which has lagged overall growth in recent years, would require a reallocation of funds domestically, likely through patching holes in the Chinese social safety net. The Chinese stimulus has been dominated by infrastructure projects, which could boost productive capacity but would do little about structural factors that keep national savings rates high. However, there could be space to implement some such countercyclical policies in H2 2009 and 2010. If so, the Chinese recovery could have greater legs and could provide more support to other countries. If these efforts fail or are delayed however, Chinese and global growth could be much more sluggish.
Despite slowing from highs of 8%-9% growth, India’s economy will grow close to 6% in 2009. Amid domestic and global liquidity crunch, large domestic savings and corporate retained ea
rnings are financing investment. Sluggish labor market and wealth effects have hit urban consumption. But low export dependence, a large consumption base and the high share of employment (two thirds) and income (one half) coming from rural areas has helped sustain consumption. Pre-election spending, especially in rural areas, and high government expenditure, are also pluses. Timely monetary and credit measures have played a key role in improving private demand, liquidity and short-term rates and reducing the risk of loan losses. Credit is largely channeled by domestic banks, especially state-controlled ones, which have low loan-to-deposit ratios and little exposure to toxic assets. IT exports have held up despite repercussions on jobs and consumer spending. The oil price correction cushioned India’s trade deficit and large foreign exchange reserves helped the country withstand capital outflows in 2008. High returns in real estate and infrastructure and planned liberalization also helped boost capital inflows and asset markets when global risk appetite revived recently.
The Philippines’ stalwart consumers saved the economy from the recessions that plagued its more export-dependent neighbors. Remittances proved surprisingly resilient despite the global economic slowdown as Filipino laborers, especially professional or skilled workers, continued to find strong demand overseas. This was partly due to the government’s diligence in forging new hiring agreements with several countries. Unperturbed remittance growth shielded domestic demand from high unemployment rates at home, which is obscured by the country’s very loose definition of employment. In the meantime, however, dependence on external demand for Filipino labor denotes a lack of progress in developing the local economy. Apart from land grabs by Persian Gulf countries, the Philippines has attracted little foreign investment of the kind needed to create jobs and lift Filipinos out of the poverty that afflicts a third of the country’s 90 million people. (For more, see Philippines 2009 Growth Outlook: A Recession-less Bright Spot in Asia?)
The global downturn and commodity correction have hit Indonesia’s exports and government revenues. But a low export-to-GDP ratio and a greater reliance on domestic demand relative to its Asian peers have cushioned growth. Chinese stimulus is, to a degree, boosting commodity exports. Fiscal stimulus and election spending, along with monetary, credit and foreign exchange measures since late 2008, have sustained private demand and financing needs, despite tight external credit. Corporations’ external liabilities and banks’ non-performing loans are significantly lower compared to the 1997-98 crisis. External loans and attractive yields, meanwhile, are financing the fiscal deficit. A revival of risk appetite and the carry trade has buoyed capital inflows. Swap agreements with Asian central banks have cushioned exchange rate pressures and the scarce foreign exchange reserves. Favorable election outcomes and aggressive anti- extremist measures have boosted investor confidence despite some recent risks, and investors are bullish about ongoing reforms and unexploited opportunities in the resource sector.
Amid the general Eastern European malaise, Poland’s economy has been a bright spot. In the first quarter, the economy posted positive real growth of 0.8% y/y, outperforming all other EU economies with the exception of Cyprus.
Why is Poland a stand-out? For starters, Poland’s economy did not boom to the same extent as its regional peers in the Baltics and Balkans, and therefore did not build up the same level of accompanying external imbalances, which helps explain its milder downturn. Second, as Eastern Europe’s biggest economy, Poland has a large domestic market, making it relatively less dependent on exports to ailing Western Europe. Third, the country’s flexible exchange rate and record-low interest rates have helped cushion the slowdown. Finally, Poland proactively distinguished itself from others in the region and boosted investor confidence in May by securing a US$20.5 billion Flexible Credit Line from the IMF – a special facility reserved for emerging markets with strong fundamentals. While Poland’s economy has weathered the global turmoil better than its regional peers, a rapid recovery is unlikely and the outlook is not without risks. In particular, Poland’s fiscal situation is deteriorating, which will likely push back the country’s planned euro adoption in 2012.
Although Norway ‘s economy slipped into negative growth in the fourth quarter, its downturn will be among the mildest of advanced economies, with analysts expecting a contraction in the range of 1.0-2.0% in 2009 and a return to growth in 2010. What sets Norway apart are years of current account and budget surpluses (both in the double-digits as a % of GDP), a sizeable public sector and a hefty war chest of oil revenues amassed in the Government Pension Fund. Consequently, Norwegian policymakers have had ample room to use fiscal and monetary policy to soften the downturn.
Statistics Norway estimates the impetus from fiscal policy in 2009 to be 3% of mainland GDP – the strongest stimulus since the 1970s. Meanwhile, the benchmark interest rate is at an all-time low of 1.25%, down from 5.75% in October 2008. Also helping to alleviate the pain of contraction is the fact that Norway’s economy is well equipped with automatic stabilizers. Given Norway’s comparatively bright outlook, there is talk that the country will be the first among adva
nced economies to hike rates. The central bank sees the first hike coming in Q2 2010, though some analysts think it may come earlier.
The French economy managed to avoid a recession in 2008 and is expected fare best among the big four eurozone member countries in 2009. France’s more balanced domestic demand-led growth model has served it relatively better during a synchronized global downturn. The large social safety net fully served its automatic-stabilizer purpose in a countercyclical manner. Fiscal measures were targeted to the short-term and included mostly non-recurring spending. France’s relatively healthy banking sector received targeted support and is in a position to fully sustain the recovery in the eurozone.
Despite relatively sound finances that helped it outperform the rest of the G7 in 2008 and early 2009, Canada’s exposure to the U.S. for trade and investment suggests its recovery may lag that of the U.S. (a trend that Q2 2009 data seems to support). However, a more consolidated financial sector with lower leverage, lower default rates, as well as a revival of domestic demand, should support recovery in 2010, albeit one characterized by below- potential growth. Canadian households and corporations still have more access to credit than their U.S. counterparts, a factor that helped buffer Canada from a more severe property market correction. Yet the nascent revival in consumption may be weaker than the Bank of Canada expects. The rebound in commodity prices is mixed news. Higher commodity prices and greater demand for metals, if not yet for oil and cheap natural gas, should contribute to an expansion of mining and energy output–but too strong a surge could boost the Canadian dollar, exacerbating Canada’s manufacturing weakness as it boosts labor costs.
Middle East and North Africa
Overall, countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region were relatively sheltered from the financial spillovers, but suffered from reduced demand. Expansionary fiscal policies throughout the region and effective – if belated in some cases – financial sector support offset the export and investment weakness. The GCC countries most reliant on foreign financing to fund credit expansion, such as the UAE, are suffering the sharpest effects. However, past savings provide a cushion. In the long-term the region’s growth outlook depends on the price and effective deployment of its hydrocarbon endowments.
Despite Egypt’s GDP growth slowdown to be well below recent trends in 2009 (about 3.8% instead of the 7% in 2007 and 2008), the country has been able to weather the financial crisis better than its peers. The narrow exposure of Egypt’s financial sector to foreign structured finance, coupled with a low reliance on foreign bank loans, sheltered the country. Egypt’s countercyclical monetary and especially fiscal policies also shielded the economy somewhat, and previous reforms reduced financial vulnerabilities. Doubling the country’s stimulus package took the budget deficit to 6.9% of GDP for the last fiscal year (similar to the previous one). Should the FDI slowdown persist, financing this deficit will be more costly, however, and political issues surrounding the succession of Egypt’s president could potentially hamper reforms.
Driven by an increase in liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and government investment, Qatar is expected to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with real GDP growth verging on the double-digits in 2009. Government support allowed Qatar’s financial sector to more easily weather the turmoil than some of their Emirati or Kuwaiti counterparts. Noticeably slower growth in the economy’s non-hydrocarbon sectors, combined with lower loan growth, contributed to lower profitability and the weakening of balance sheets, prompting the government to buy stakes in local banks and as well as property and equity holdings on the balance sheets of local banks. Qatar’s relative strength contributes to the fact that Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund was among the first to return to significant foreign investment.
Lebanon appears to be withstanding the crisis remarkably well. The Lebanese banking sector was protected by regulations that restricted investment in sub-prime assets and in general kept Lebanese banks isolated from foreign credit. Domestic political uncertainty also added to the isolation. Unlike most emerging and frontier markets–but like Morocco and Tunisia–Lebanon continued to attract an impressive inflow of funds in 2008, although at a slower pace, meaning its asset markets outperformed. The recent political stability has given a boost to the tourism and real estate sectors. Stronger performance, however, would require Lebanon to more aggressively reduce its extensive debt burden, something which may not happen until 2011.