For many countries, economic growth is proving to be somewhat elusive. Global growth continues to slow, with the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) World Economic Outlook forecasting a deceleration from 3.6% in 2018 to 3.2% in 2019, and to settle at 3.5% in 2020(1). With the lethargy currently permeating both developed and emerging markets, compounded by ongoing uncertainty in many areas – from geopolitics to global trade – investors are increasingly looking for new opportunities to gain returns.
Figure 1: IMF growth projections, World Economic Outlook Update July 2019
Bucking the trend: the 7% club
There are bright spots on the horizon for those willing to take a long-term view. The IMF forecasts an uptick in growth from emerging markets over the next few years (figure 1). More specifically, we predict(2) that seven countries – mainly in southeast and south Asia – will achieve growth rates of 7% or more in the 2020s. At this rate of growth, an economy can be expected to double in size every 10 years.
This select group of economies is bucking the trend of slow growth caused by the twin drags of the US-China trade war and the burden of ageing populations. The seven countries expected to achieve 7% growth in the 2020s are India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, the Philippines, Myanmar, Ethiopia and Côte d’Ivoire – which now make up ‘the 7% club’.
China would obviously have been a member of this group in the past, but economic and structural challenges have driven its four-decade stretch of 7%-plus growth to naturally moderate. In the years it experienced exponential expansion, however, it was a revenue-generating market for corporations and investors globally. This bodes well for today’s 7% club, whose members can expect to be similarly attractive in the 2020s.
These seven countries in large part owe their success to their governments’ economic reforms, which have been encouraging growth cycles. Investment in better infrastructure, for example, inspires foreign direct investment (FDI), which in turn fosters growth. Faster growth pulls large swathes of the population out of poverty, boosting their spending power. Then more spending power encourages further investment.
In India, for example, structural reforms such as the introduction of a goods and services tax and a new bankruptcy law have helped boost its economy. Then in the Philippines, further infrastructure investment and development of its services and manufacturing sectors are also expected to drive growth(3). In Indonesia, economic growth should increase if president Joko Widodo uses his May 2019 election victory to pursue reforms; we expect this country of over 260 million people to be the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2030.
Opportunities and balancing the risk
While China’s economic growth has now slowed, its story illustrates how southeast and south Asia are likely to become more attractive investment corridors. These two regions already account for 28% of global GDP, and their growth is creating more middle-class jobs and greater consumer spending power.
For fixed-income investors, more of these growing Asian economies are likely to be included in the critical benchmark indices, following China’s inclusion in the Global Aggregate index in April 2019(4). Such inclusion will encourage international asset managers to allocate their portfolios to these markets. Recent trends in real estate investment also show emerging markets such as Vietnam and India continuing to attract attention. This is due to a shift in risk-return preferences for real estate investments in 2019, driving investors to look towards alternative markets (given high levels of competition in gateway cities(5)).
As the extent of policymaking increases in these developing economies, the level of risk should lower, making these new corridors more attractive to both investors and corporates. Looking at India and Indonesia, for example, both have successfully taken steps to reduce seasonal spikes in food price inflation. Policymaking in many of these countries has also helped to manage inflation. Low rates of expected inflation and currency stability reduce the macroeconomic risks for fixed income and FDI alike.
So, what is the optimal strategy to mitigate risk and manage these opportunities? Thinking long term is the answer. Risk in these countries has many dimensions, whether geopolitical, regulatory or economic. It is critical therefore to keep a watching brief on the drivers of growth – particularly the ability to channel savings into export-oriented manufacturing. This will encourage participation in global trade, help establish broad macroeconomic stability and support the implementation of structural reforms, such as economic deregulation.
The countries in the 7% club should offer opportunities for prescient investors, if their economic expansion and policy reforms continue. While there are no guarantees, and faster growth will not make these economies immune to periodic downturns, making a carefully considered commitment might well pay dividends in the not-too-distant future for those who capitalize on the opportunity.
Note: Figures not footnoted were drawn from Standard Chartered’s proprietary research.
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