WASHINGTON — From Turkey to South Africa to Argentina, emerging markets are being slammed by rising inflation, economic mismanagement and political turmoil.
Overhanging it all is a nerve-jangling unknown: Whether developing countries as a group can withstand the end of the extraordinary easy-money policies that central banks have offered up for five years.
The short answer: A tentative yes. Many economists say they’re optimistic that the troubles in emerging markets won’t infect the global economy as a whole.
They note that the biggest threats in the developing world are confined to modest-size economies — South Africa, Turkey, Argentina — that seem unlikely to do much damage beyond their borders. For one thing, emerging economies as a group are far healthier than they were the last time they were severely tested — during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s.
Many have built up foreign-currency reserves they can use to buy their own currency and prop up its value. When the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997, emerging markets’ foreign reserves were equal to 9.9 percent of their economic output. Many couldn’t defend their currencies. By last year, the percentage had risen to nearly 30 percent, according to the Institute of International Finance.
And the world’s richest economies — the United States and Europe — appear to be strengthening. As they do, they’ll be more likely to buy goods from developing countries, thereby cushioning the damage.
“Some emerging markets have been hit particularly hard,” economists at BNP Paribas wrote in a report last week. “However, it has only been some, so this is not a widespread emerging-market crisis.”
The International Monetary Fund expects the global economy to grow 3.7 percent this year, up from 3 percent in 2013.
Still, the turmoil in emerging markets this year has shaken global investors.
On Monday alone, the Dow sank 326 points, or 2.1 percent after a weak report on U.S. manufacturing added to investors’ worries about the global economy.
Why have emerging market troubles spooked investors? Fear of the unknown.
After going to extraordinary lengths to pump money into the financial system after a crisis hit in 2008, the Federal Reserve is scaling back. The Fed’s bond buying had pushed long-term U.S. rates down and sent investors into emerging markets in search of higher returns. Now that U.S. rates may be poised to rise, the money is flowing back out.
Adding to the tension is trouble in China. The fast-growing Chinese economy is decelerating — bad news for developing countries that supply Chinese factories with raw materials.