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Emerging Markets Are Suffering, Whether They’re Prudent or Not

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- You can do the right thing and still be punished, at least for a while.

When most of the big powers are tightening the reins, emerging-market economies are going to suffer. It's true for the frugal nations as well as the profligate. In the short term, global factors and broader capital-market tides always matter more than national discipline.

The European Central Bank is tapping the brakes, and the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates further and faster than anyone else. This siphons investors away from emerging markets. Compounding their pain: The manufacturing-supply chains on which they built their economic models are threatened by the White House.

Emerging markets are rarely masters of their own destiny, a point I made last year and more recently. This reality is conveniently overlooked during bouts of emerging-market mania.   

They aren't powerless, though. Countries can make decisions that limit the pain when sentiment sours and that position them well for the inevitable rebound. Think of Indonesia, which has raised interest rates calmly and steadily, taken steps to curb imports and delayed some big-spending projects. All textbook stuff.

Alternatively, emerging economies can be cavalier in good times, which aggravates the next downturn for them and sows the seeds for more lasting problems. Argentina, with fiscal mismanagement and a plea for international aid, would be Exhibit A from recent headlines. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan only harmed his nation by putting relatives in key economic jobs and railing against shadowy forces intent on higher rates.

Emerging markets, as a whole, have made great strides since their financial crises in the late 1990s. They account for 70 percent of global growth, their citizens are the dominant consumers, and their capital markets dwarf the size they once were, notes Jorge Mariscal at UBS Wealth Management.

Surely enough for Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and ECB President Mario Draghi to take notice. Yes, but not sufficient for a change in direction by the big guys. As individual nations, emerging markets (with the possible exception of China) just don't exert much gravity on the major central banks.

So what's a responsible nation to do? Don't panic, and keep patient.

The Fed is still increasing rates, but is closer to the end than the beginning. The ECB is wrapping up its quantitative easing, though a rate increase before the middle of next year is unlikely. With the global expansion slowing, the ECB may miss its window for an increase altogether. The Bank of England and the Bank of Canada aren't powerful enough to make an impact on their own.

That ought to give some succor to Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who fairly complained last week that her country is doing the right thing, compared with its haphazard and violent approach during the Asian financial crisis, and nonetheless getting burned. 

The Fed and the U.S. Treasury, not to mention Japan and China, will continue to worry about their own priorities first and Indonesia's last. Investors give some hope in the meantime: The rupiah is down about 9 percent in the past six months, better than the 15 percent suffered by the South African rand, the 30 percent slide in the Turkish lira and the 45 percent tumble meted out to the Argentine peso.

You can get caught in the global monetary machine through no fault of your own. But choices matter. The reasonable nations will be deliberate with their monetary, fiscal and regulatory response and not burn through too many reserves, and they will ultimately prosper, when the bigger policy machine once again shifts in their favor. They’ll form the new generation of emerging markets that will lead the next recovery.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Daniel Moss writes and edits articles on economics for Bloomberg Opinion. Previously he was executive editor of Bloomberg News for global economics, and has led teams in Asia, Europe and North America.

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