Mon, Sep 14, 2015 - Page 14 News List

India avoids worst of economic misery

BRIC WALL:While the nation once dubbed the Broken BRIC saw growth expanding at 7 percent, an economic slowdown in China has had a knock-on effect on Brazil

AFP, NEW DELHI

Three years ago, India was the weakling of the emerging markets clan, politically stagnant and struggling to grow — but as gloom engulfs other developing economies, the subcontinent is enjoying a moment in the sun.

Brazil and Russia lie deep in recession and South Africa is teetering on the brink after demand for raw materials collapsed, while alarm bells have sounded over fears the China juggernaut might be faltering.

Enter India, once dubbed the Broken BRIC — referring to the BRICS group, which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — now poised to become the fastest-growing G20 economy, expanding at a respectable 7 percent, with its finances nourished by cheap oil.

“If you look at the growth numbers, India is definitely doing better than these other economies,” said Kunal Kundu, an economist at Societe Generale in Bangalore. “China is in slowdown mode, and Brazil and Russia are in trouble because they are commodities-dependent. We are seeing India as the standout.”

It is not all rosy — while low-cost oil and a new way of calculating growth have added shine to India’s GDP figures, its exports remain poor and shares on the Bombay Stock Exchange languish 5 percent below a year earlier.

Economists say underlying growth remains fragile and question whether the recalculated figures that show India’s growth rate on a par with China’s can be trusted.

However, as turmoil convulsed global markets this summer, wiping trillions of US dollars off world exchanges and leading investors to flee emerging economies, India has escaped comparatively unscathed.

“India is looking like an oasis of stability at the moment,” said Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics in London. “It is a very different picture from a couple of years ago when India was at the forefront of concerns.”

As long as China steamrolled along at double-digit pace, covering its landscape with highways and skyscrapers, train tracks and malls, it sucked in vast amounts of raw materials such as oil, coal, iron ore for steelmaking, and cement.

However, when China’s appetite waned, it cast a chill over Brazil, whose economy depends on selling commodities to China and a handful of other big customers.

“Brazil is very affected, more than other emerging countries, especially after what happened yesterday,” said Alex Agostini, chief economist at Austin Rating in Sao Paulo, referring to Standard & Poor's decision to cut Brazil's sovereign rating to junk.

At the peak of a boom in 2010, the one-time South American superstar grew 7.5 percent; economists now expect it to remain in recession next year as political paralysis compounds its woes.

Fellow junk-rated Russia, an oil exporter which lost big when prices halved, faces biting sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, while the number of Russians living in poverty has soared to 21.7 million, or roughly 15 percent of its total population, statistics agency Rosstat said.

“The main impact now comes through China influencing the global economy, commodities and financial markets,” said Oleg Kouzmin at Renaissance Capital in Moscow. He expects Russia's economy to shrink by 4 percent this year.

In South Africa, one of China’s biggest suppliers of minerals, one in four people is unemployed and GDP unexpectedly shrank 1.3 percent in the second quarter. Sales of iron ore have tanked, leading mining companies to announce huge layoffs.

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