Developing nations emerge from shadows as sun sets on the West

By Ernest Bey

After all, the "Noughties" were plagued with financial instability and plunging asset values, beginning with the "dotcom" collapse and ending with "sub-prime".

Yet that's not the entire story. Not by a long way. You can only conclude the last decade has been disastrous by viewing the world through a narrow lens. Yes, the so-called "advanced economies" have performed terribly. But, then again, they have been subject to self-imposed policy blunders – in terms of fiscal and monetary profligacy and the removal of key regulatory firewalls – that will make future historians wince.

The Left couldn't care less about Africans killing AfricansI honestly believe the likes of Alan Greenspan and Gordon Brown will be savaged when authoritative accounts of the past 10 years are written. Those who dubbed the former boss of America's Federal Reserve "the maestro" and lauded the current UK Prime Minister as "the Iron Chancellor" will look foolish in retrospect – even more than they already do.

As we've repeatedly whacked the self-destruct button over the last 10 years, many other parts of the world have made enormous economic progress. Most mainstream global investors and media outlets are only now starting to realise this – and at a glacial pace. Conventional wisdom in the West remains profoundly behind the curve when it comes to grasping the extent to which the centre of economic gravity is shifting to "the rest of the world".

Over the last few months, Western financiers have, instead, been in triumphalist mode, pointing to the "rebound" in share prices on Wall Street and in the City. It's true that during 2009, the S&P500 – America's most watched stock index – gained 23pc while the FTSE-100 went up 22pc. These are very strong annual gains.

This 2009 performance, though, represents only a partial recovery from the cataclysmic losses of 2008. Looking at the last decade as a whole places our recent share price gains in a somewhat less triumphalist light. Since the end of 1999, the S&P500 has actually fallen – by no less than 24pc. This is the first decade-long drop since the index began in 1927.

The FTSE-100 is also 21pc lower than at the start of the Noughties. On top of that, a major reason the UK index has recovered at all this year is that quite a few large mining companies, based elsewhere in the world, are listed in London (for now).

It's not just the "Anglo-Saxon" economies which have suffered, either. The pan-European FTSE-Eurofirst 300 has lost 34pc over the last 10 years. These numbers represent the wiping-out of, quite literally, trillions of dollars of wealth. They are nominal figures, so the impact of falling currencies and inflation means the actual drop in real asset values is even more profound.

Such disastrous losses have, for the most part, been incurred not by rich "fat-cat" individuals, but by the pension-funds, insurance companies and other institutional investors upon whom tens of millions of ordinary Western households depend – or thought they could depend.

The dire performance of Western assets markets over the last decade is unprecedented. It severely challenges the long-standing view that holders of equity, if they're patient, will do well. If pondered upon, and assessed honestly, it also unsettles the assumption, hard-wired into our political and cultural mindset, that our part of the world will keep getting richer.

Contrast this sorry tale of wealth-loss with the fate of the large emerging markets over the last decade. Off the back of a manufacturing miracle, China's Shanghai Composite Index of leading shares gained no less than 140pc over the last 10 years. India's Sensex 30, the main index on the Bombay stock exchange, is up 249pc - the result of the country's IT and outsourcing skills.

Despite being dismissed as "basket cases", the commodity-rich emerging markets have done even better. Brazil's Bovespa index of leading shares is up 301pc over the last decade, with President Lula da Silva, lampooned by many as a "Marxist", pursuing business-friendly, pro-stability policies that have put most Western governments to shame.

Russia's Micex index, too, has surged a massive 802pc since the end of 1999. Yes, the country's well known oil, gas and metals companies have done well, but they've been easily outperformed by the best names across the non-commodity sectors.

These markets are far from perfect. They have been volatile and are not for the fainthearted. Corporate governance dangers exist – and will continue to do so for years to come. On the other, while they still oscillate a great deal, the Eastern indices have done so around a trend which, for the last 10 years, has been unequivocally up.

There are many reasons, despite short-term squalls and profit-taking, to assume that trend will continue.

During the Noughties, while the emerging markets grew more sporadically than the West, their average growth rate was much higher. The developed world grew by 2.1 pc a year over the last 10 years, while the emerging markets expanded 4.2pc. In 2010, those numbers will be 1.3pc and 5.1pc, according to the International Monetary Fund, with the same "West-to-East" trend extending deep into this new decade.

Between 2011 and 2014, the developed world's economies will grow 2.5pc a year on average, says the IMF, while the emerging markets will expand 6.4pc. Consider also, that the Fund has a long track record of overstating future Western performance, while underestimating the rate at which the emerging markets grow.

Back in 1990, the "advanced" nations – effectively Europe, the US and Japan – controlled around 64pc of the global economy, as measured by gross domestic product. They now control 52pc – a huge loss of economic influence in a very short period of time. Most of that shift happened during the last 10 years. As Economic Agenda has argued repeatedly since the "credit crunch" began in mid-2007, this sub-prime fiasco, and the related loss of faith in Western markets and institutions, can only accelerate and accentuate that mega-trend – with sophisticated global investors increasingly investing not in "safe" Western nations, but in the far-flung economies of the East.

Over the coming decade, this shift will have a massive impact not just on the shape of global commerce, but international relations more broadly. Anyone will still doubts the extent to which the world has changed should look at the distribution of the world's foreign exchange reserves.

Not so long ago, the US was the world's biggest creditor. It is now, by a long way, the biggest debtor. Other big Western economies have followed America, spending the last 10 years borrowing money from the Eastern economies to fuel irresponsible increases in public spending.

As a result, the big-four emerging markets, known as the BRICS, now hold no less than 42pc of the world's total reserves. The G7 countries, in contrast, hold only 17pc. Take away Japan, the only substantive creditor nation among that group, and the "club" of advanced countries – including the US, UK and France – holds only 4pc of the world's reserves in their respective central banks.

Over the last decade, while the big emerging markets have amassed reserves, we've spent ours. Responding to sub-prime, we've taken on even more debts. Yet, in a world-stalked by systemic instability, reserves amount to power – allowing nations to defend their currencies, support their banking systems and boost their economies without borrowing even more.

During the Noughties, the West slipped up badly, with the baton of global growth passing to the rest of the world. Over the coming decade, and it pains me to write this, we could lose what remains of our battered reputation for financial stability too.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.