Mon, Oct 07, 2013 - Page 15 News List

As some nations improve, BRICs starting to stumble

AP, NEW YORK

The developing countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China recovered quickly from the financial crisis five years ago. Their spending helped keep a global recession from becoming a global depression.

Now they are stumbling.

Indians are buying fewer cars for the first time in a decade. Chinese are struggling as economic growth slows to a two-decade low.

Even big-spending Brazilians, who like to buy everything from shoes to dental work on credit, are turning thrifty — and angry.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in June to protest rising prices and shoddy public services.

The timing is unfortunate.

The economies of the US, Europe and Japan have gained some momentum in recent months.

It seemed that both developed and developing countries would finally be strengthening together as they did before the crisis.

Now, hopes for a healthier worldwide economy have been dashed.

The reasons for the slowdown in the BRICs, as the four biggest developing countries are known, are myriad, from a pullback in bank lending in China to crumbling infrastructure and rampant corruption in India.

One constant: The cost of living is rising fast, sapping spending power and the spirits of even those who have done well since the crisis.

Wang Yonghui, a hotel worker in Shijiazhuang, China, bought an apartment in 2006 that has almost doubled in value.

However, the price of nearly everything else has risen, too, outstripping his and his wife’s monthly income of 8,000 yuan (US$1,300).

“So our net worth goes up, but our savings go down,” Wang said, adding that he no longer has the appetite, or the cash, to dabble in stocks as he used to.

When the crisis struck in the fall of 2008, exports from developing countries to developed ones plunged, as did stock markets from Beijing to Moscow.

However, the developing countries snapped back, thanks to a mix of massive government stimulus programs, a flood of bank loans to businesses and consumers and a rebound in prices for commodities, a big source of exports for some of the countries.

Now, the Chinese government is pulling back from its loose-credit policy to rein in excessive borrowing, which is slowing growth.

Falling prices for commodities have hobbled Brazil and Russia. Indian consumers have slowed spending because of high inflation.

A jump in US interest rates since May is hurting, too.

Investors attracted to those higher rates are pulling money out of developing countries, slamming their economies.

The tougher times are forcing many people to retrench.

“I’ve started to ask myself: ‘Do I really need this?”’ said Antonio Guedes, 33, a clothing designer in Rio de Janeiro.

“I think people of my generation are going to have a much more uncertain financial life than our parents’ generation,” he said.

In Brazil, 40 million people, a fifth of its population, joined the middle class in the past decade.

The Chinese now buy more cars and cellphones than Americans. And while two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion still struggle in poverty, the growing middle class is spending enough to convince the likes of Starbucks and IKEA to open stores for the first time.

For all their promise, though, the BRICs can only help support the global economy, not drive it, analysts say.

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