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Global problems threaten emerging economies but some are on firmer ground than others: Moody's

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What is an emerging market?
Key Points
  • In the Asia Pacific region, the main sources of risk are trade tensions and tightening financing conditions, said Moody's.
  • Latin American economies would likely recover from their low growth in 2016-2017, the ratings agency said in a report.
  • Stock markets in the emerging economies have experienced a massive sell-off this year.

A slew of potential problems are confronting the world's emerging economies, but many of those countries appear resilient enough to weather the storm.

Ratings agency Moody's said in a report Thursday that the outlook for emerging markets will be "broadly stable" in 2019.

The agency attributed its assessment to "strong balance sheets, domestic growth and supportive policy" which it said would buffer emerging markets against challenges such a global economic slowdown, rising interest rates, trade protectionism and geopolitical tensions.

While Moody's said the "broadly stable" outlook describes overall trends, it warned that credit stress could emerge for nations with macroeconomic imbalances or rising political risk, "particularly those highly reliant on international financing."

The agency also noted there will be different outcomes based on specific economic, institutional and demographic differences within the group of countries classified as emerging.

Stock markets in the emerging economies experienced a massive sell-off this year, when investors feared that escalating financial troubles in countries like Turkey and Argentina could spill over to other emerging economies.

There is no universal definition of emerging markets — the IMF classifies 96 countries as emerging, but investment research firm MSCI, which is known for its Emerging Markets Index, classifies only 24 countries as emerging.

MSCI evaluates global equity markets every year, taking into account the country's economic development, the size and liquidity of its stock markets and the accessibility of its financial markets to foreign investors.

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index, which tracks large and mid-cap stocks in 24 countries, has fallen by more than 20 percent from its peak in January.

However, some prominent investors such as Mark Mobius, co-founder of Mobius Capital Partners, have said it is now time to buy stocks in emerging markets.

In the Asia Pacific region, the main sources of risk are trade tensions and tightening financing conditions, said Moody's.

It noted that reforms in the region have "increased foreign exchange reserve buffers", but the escalating trade war between China and the United States would hurt many Asia Pacific countries in the supply chain, including trade-reliant economies like Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Moody's said Latin American economies would likely recover from their low growth in 2016-2017. The agency noted that new governments have taken office in Brazil and Mexico, making policy direction likely to be clearer in 2019.

However, it singled out Latin America's third-largest economy, Argentina as an outlier. The country saw its currency fall by nearly half against the dollar this year and has battled double-digit inflation.

To combat the crisis, Argentina signed a deal in September to receive International Monetary Fund financing worth $57 billion — the largest bailout in IMF's history. Moody's noted that Argentina's real GDP is expected to decline 1.5 percent next year, as the country faces corruption scandals and a presidential election.