In 2001, Jim O’Neil, the chief economist of Goldman Sachs coined the term BRIC – standing for Brazil, Russia, India, China. These four countries, with large populations and undersized economies, represented future economic engines that could overpower the many of the advanced Group of Seven (G7) countries. During the first decade of the 2000s, this economic bloc sustained large growth rates as their economies grew to fit landmass, population size, and resource levels.
With the popularity of BRIC, other acronyms became popular to represent emerging market growth, such as MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey) and Next Eleven, or N-11 (including Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan Philippines, and Vietnam).
Since the start of the 2010s, the BRICs have not performed as well as they did in the previous decade. An alphabet soup of acronyms representing countries with large populations can no longer represent a mass pull upwards for economic growth. The current situation of the four BRICs represent that each individual emerging market has an idiosyncratic political and economic risks unrelated to one another. Below, I break down each BRIC.
In 2010, Brazil reported 7.5% growth – an astounding, out-of-the-norm number for almost all nations. Since then, President Dilma Rousseff has overseen Brazil’s largest recession in twenty-five years. This recession, coupled with a widespread corruption scandal involving Rousseff’s Workers Party and state-run oil company Petrobras has made the president highly unpopular with both Brazilians and international investors. Millions of protestors have come to the streets to advocate for her impeachment and members of the Brazilian Congress voted on March 18th to begin impeachment proceedings for Rousseff. Things have become so dire for Rousseff that the Brazilian real gained 9 percent in reaction to news of Rousseff’s impending impeachment.
Vladimir Putin’s geopolitical ambitions and slumped oil prices have pushed Russia into recession. In March 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea. As a result, the United States and the European Union imposed harsh sanctions on the nation – blacklisting top Russian officials and firms accused of supporting Ukrainian separatists. This has limited access to capital for major Russian banks, energy, and defense firms and led to a flood of foreign investment leaving the nation. Furthermore, oil –which Russia relies on for nearly a fifth of its GDP -- since 2014, has dropped in value by more than seventy percent. As a result, the Russian economy shrank by 3.7 percent in 2015.
India is the only BRIC that still shows the rocket-fueled growth associated with the entire BRIC bloc. India experienced 7.6 percent growth in 2015 – a higher level than that of China, the traditional growth superstar. There are two trains of thought to explain India’s extraordinary growth. The first reasons that low oil prices allowed the oil-importing, traditionally low-growth nation to shrink its deficits and offset inflation. The second reason is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies of economic liberalization have increased international confidence in the nation. Whether it’s either or or a combination of the two, India’s growth demonstrates that growth factors are not inherent to emerging markets per se, but rather that the specific politics of a nation can inform economic growth. Moreover, India’s high growth rate demonstrates that factors that can so largely positively impact one BRIC’s economy can have no effect on or negatively impact other BRIC economies.
Looking at recent headlines, it can be easy to assume that China’s economic situation is the same as Brazil’s or Russia’s. These headlines include “Why China’s Economy Will Be So Hard to Fix”, and “Will the crisis in China sink the US economy?”. These dramatic headlines were created in response to a growth rate of 6.9% in 2015. Despite having a growth rate considered miraculous in most other nations, this number does ring a few alarms. Much investment in China in recent years has come due to the promises of double-digit growth. As China transitions from being an industrial manufacturing-based economy to a skills and service-based middle-income economy and as its large population rapidly ages, China will potentially not see the heavy growth of the past twenty-five years again.
Today, two BRICs show negative growth, one BRIC shows slowing growth, and the final BRIC shows extraordinary growth. When grouped together as a single entity, there appears to be a randomness to the collective output of these nations. However, when analyzed individually, it’s revealed that each country’s economy is influenced by unique sets of factors, often unaffiliated or negatively affiliated with the other countries. Being a highly-populated nation with a low-income economy does not guarantee growth. Rather, factors such as resources, relations with other in nations, and good governance all contribute to an economy’s trajectory.
- Harris Mateen