Emerging markets are reporting impressive growth figures for early 2017, indicating a rebound from their six-year slump and a better outlook worldwide.
China, along with Mexico, South Korea, Brazil and other economies considered emerging are overcoming obstacles to growth, such as unstable currencies, political turmoil, and concerns related to the Trump administration’s anti-trade stance. A weaker dollar has also helped, lifting currencies in Mexico, Turkey and Brazil. And, emerging-market stocks and bonds are attracting investors. The New York Times reports that the exchange-traded fund iShares MSCI Emerging Markets is up 11%, “with funds that track markets like Mexico, Turkey, India and Argentina rising even more.”
The Chinese economy has reportedly grown 6.9% this year, helped along by heavy investments. Import growth by volume, a key measure of domestic demand, was up 20% in the first two months of 2017. Trade numbers were also strong, with exports growing 16% in March. Export figures are also trending upwards in South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia, suggesting a real uptick in global trade.
“Despite what is happening politically in mature economies, we are seeing a real broadening of growth in emerging markets”, said Ulrik Bie, an economist with the Institute of International Finance (IIF). “These economies are such a large part of the global economy, so this provides a really solid foundation for overall growth.”
In Mexico, business confidence improved markedly in March, despite the peso plunging after the election of Trump. It has since regained all of its value, and for the year is up 10% against the dollar. Brazil’s central bank cut interest rates by the largest amount since 2009 to kick-start an economy still struggling with recession, but showing signs of recovery. Meanwhile business leaders in Turkey have ramped up production. In March Turkish manufacturers reported their highest monthly level of economic activity in three years. Exports were up 19% year-on-year.
Economic data from IIF show that growth in emerging economies was up 6.8% in the first quarter, the highest since 2011. This is an early indicator, and therefore not definitive; however it is useful for revealing economic trends. In reference to the purchase managers index, which gauges private manufacturing sector activity, Bie said, “We are seeing a broad uptick in business confidence and P.M.I.s in these countries.” The IIF has raised its growth forecasts in light of the recent data.
Offering another key indicator, shipping executives report a dramatic increase in demand for container vessels, which transport most manufactured goods around the world. According to the Harpex Shipping index, which tracks container pricing, rates are up sharply, by 40% this year. “There is definitely something going on here”, said Nick Bailey, Chief Commercial Officer at Lomar Shipping. “The market from mid-last year to today has doubled.”
Just as the slowdown in China’s economic growth has been a source of consternation of late, it could be leading the emerging market rebound. According to Bailey, China has been the single largest purchaser of container ships, with many being used to move goods from hubs like Shanghai to other parts of the country. “This is being driven by domestic demand in China”, he said. “It is a big part of this growth story.”