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Emerging Markets Storm On The Horizon?

It’s been a bad time for emerging markets; we’ve been reporting on growth slowdowns in China, Brazil and India along with trouble in South Africa and Turkey. As the Federal Reserve begins to signal a shift in its cheap money policy and rates start to rise in the US, bad news in the emerging markets mixes with rising rates at home to create the potential for a massive economic storm. Investors are dumping emerging market stocks, currencies and bonds, and we are seeing big market shifts as a result. Bloomberg:

“These are pre-quake tremors: something big is coming,” Stephen Jen, the co-founder of hedge fund SLJ Macro Partners LLP, said in a phone interview from London on June 12. “There’s tremendous deceleration in emerging markets. You may see crisis-like price actions without having a crisis.”

This is going to be bad news for, among others, Egypt, where the economy is already weak. We think other shaky places (Argentina comes to mind) could also suffer some pain.

We’ve been pointing for some time to signs that the punditry had overestimated the ‘rise of the rest’ and that the emerging markets and the BRICS weren’t quite ready to take center stage in driving the world economy. The case for investing in the US (costs flat, dollar likely to rise as the fed slowly tightens policy, none of the uncertainty and sluggishness the EU faces with the eurozone mess, energy plentiful and cheap) is a strong one these days.

A lot of people, including some senior policymakers in places like Beijing, misread the financial crisis of 2008-9 as somehow signaling the failure of liberal capitalism and the end of American economic dynamism. What they missed was that the modern liberal system is more than 300 years old (the Dutch started it back in the 1600s before the British took it over and then handed it off to the Americans) and those 300 years have seen one economic crisis and financial panic after another from the bubble in Dutch tulips to the bubble in American houses. Bubbles are part of the system, not a sign that the system is dead.

Our suggestion: even policy makers, national strategists and global investors should study the history of the world system. History may be a ‘liberal art’, despised by ‘quants’ and by theoreticians, but if you don’t know much about it you are likely to make one expensive and painful mistake after another.

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  • Atanu Maulik

    The west will soon show the rest, who is the boss.

  • wigwag

    How long ago was it that global leftists were raving about a collapse of the dollar as an international currency and suggesting that it would be replaced by the euro, the renminbi or some basket of currencies that the world would adopt in a Kumbayah moment. It was hard to know whether they were merely predicting this outcome or actually praying that it would come to pass.

    It wasn’t just Europeans and Asians making this prediction; it was deluded and clueless Americans including Charles Kupchan. He famously wrote a book a few years back entitled, “The End of the American Era;” it’s thesis was that Europe would soon replace the United States as the world’s “go-to” superpower. If you want to see how wrong a supposedly respected commentator can be, go here,

    Kupchan wrote an equally absurd book a few years later entitled “How Enemies Become Friends.” It’s point was that if the United Ststes merely genuflects to its adversaries, everyone will get along just fine. I wonder how Kupchan thinks that’s working out in Syria.

    The United States certainly has its economic and political challenges, but those challenges are dwarfed by the challenges faced by the rest of the world. Obama deserves considerable credit for this because he was largely successful at fighting off the policy of austerity advocated by Republucans that would have proven as calamitous here as it did in Europe.

    I think Via Meadia is right. Stock markets including our own will be increasingly volatile. Still at the end of the day there will be trillions of dollars flowing through the world economy searching for a safe harbor in which to land. That safe harbor is likely to be found at an address called “Dow Jones,” “S&P 500” or even American real estate. Those who have money to invest and the intestinal fortitude to deal with extreme volatility could earn handsome returns in the U.S markets.

  • bpuharic

    One thing we’re missing here is the economic rebound of the middle class. As Paul Krugman and others have pointed out, middle class incomes are DECLINING in this recovery, while ALL..100%…ALL of income growth is in the 1%. We simply can not keep eviscerating the middle class in this country and expect to have a strong society.

    • wigwag

      I agree that declining middle class income is a huge problem exceeded only by the problem represented by the decline in working class income. Unfortunately, fixing this problem is far more difficult and complicated than most Democratic politicians will acknowkled. To their credit, Democrats see this is a problem while many Republicans don’t. Those Republicans who do acknowledge this reality foolishly believe that tax cuts for the wealthy and spending cuts falling mostly on the poor can solve virtually any problem.

      I also think that Krugman is absolutely right that but for sequestration, the economy and employment would be rebounding even more strongly than they are. Still that wouldn’t solve the problem of stagnating middle and working class income; the problem is structural and better fiscal policy can only provide partial relief.

      As bad as middle clas and working class Americans have it, things are far better for them than middle or working class Greeks, Spainards or Irish. As money flows in to escape turmoil in Europe, South America and Asia some of the benefits might trickle down to middle and working class Americans.
      It is sad that this may be the best we can hope for right now.

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