BRIC Economies Drop Like Bric(k)s

By Shlomo Maital

  While the world’s attention focuses almost exclusively on the death throes of the euro,  a more serious problem is emerging, in emerging markets.  The emerging-market BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), whose growth in the past decade has been phenomenal, despite the global recession, are all slowing down.  This is very bad news indeed for the global economy.  We tend to forget that China is a huge importer, from other Asian nations. If China slows, so will the rest of Asia.

   Here is the evidence:

 *  Brazil’s economy grew only by 2.7 % in 2011, and in March, the economic activity index dropped for the third straight month. President Rousseff is considering a stimulus package, as Brazil threatens to dip into recession.

* Russia’s economy has recovered more slowly from the global recession than other emerging markets, the World Bank says.  It has an aging population, unproductive workers, corrupt opaque investment climate, and political unrest.  All this was papered over by high oil prices, but now oil prices have come down and fracking has brought new gas supplies online in Europe.  Russia’s growth will be an anemic 3.5% this year.

* India is in economic slowdown, perhaps even crisis.  Foreign investment is now half of what it was the previous year. The Finance Ministry has imposed a slew of new taxes to stem a growing budget deficit, deterring foreign companies.  Indian bureaucracy and corruption are rife.  Moreover, India has been loathe, for some reason, to trade with its neighbors (Bangla Desh, Sri Lanka), unlike China, which made itself into a part of a whole ecosystem of cross-border trade. 

* And worse of all, China. Growth in all of East Asia/Pacific is slowing from 10% in 2010 to 7.6% this year.  China’s growth may slow to 6 % or 7%.  China has a ‘wait for the second shoe to drop’ problem.  At government insistence, banks made huge loans to property investors. The property bubble hasn’t burst, but property prices have fallen. Many owners of property have lost heavily. Some can’t pay back their loans. Banks are slow to foreclose and sell the properties, as they do in America, because to do so would recognize the losses on their P&L’s.  But sooner or later, those losses will indeed be realized.  China’s government has very few good options to stimulate the economy, because banks have already overlent. 

    The last thing the world needs is an Asian crisis, to match the European crisis.  It seems that is what we have.

    Asian and European leaders need to sit down together and work out a joint stimulus plan.  But if the Europeans themselves can’t get along, what are the chances Europe can work harmoniously with Asians?   Zero.