Managers' views

EM and Brexit: should we worry?


Keith Wade

Keith Wade

Chief Economist & Strategist

In any discussion of the economic and market outlook, it is difficult to escape the pervasive influence of Brexit. While it seems unlikely that EM economies will be anywhere near as badly impacted as the UK or even Europe, it is possible to envisage a few channels through which this could affect them.

Slower growth likely to hit trade

Perhaps the most direct macro impact to consider is trade. The UK is not hugely important for EM exports or imports. The biggest exposure is in central and eastern Europe (CEE), where 5.4% of exports go to the UK. So a scenario in which only UK growth and demand is hit would not be too problematic for EM. However, should Brexit deal a larger blow to broader European growth, the consequences for EM become more severe. CEE again is most exposed, but by far more: exports to the EU account for 66.3% of total exports from that region. Other parts of EM are less at risk, though a trade share of over 15% for the EU in both Asia and Latin America.

Financial linkages also pose a risk

Geographical proximity to the Brexit epicentre is certainly beginning to seem a bit of a negative. Another problem for CEE is remittances; workers in the EU benefit, at present, from freedom of movement, and can work and live in any of the 28 member states. This has tended to see a flow of workers towards countries with higher wages, which allows them to send money home in the form of remittances. In the most extreme scenario where Britain leaves the EU and forces all EU migrants to leave, these remittances would vanish altogether.

Eastern Europe faces additional costs

Remittances, of course, are not the only capital flows rolling across borders. There must be a question over the stability of banking flows at a time of heightened uncertainty and potential recession. We saw during the global financial crisis and Eurozone debt crisis that followed that banks tend to retrench and consolidate at such times, which heightened uncertainty. Perhaps luckily for emerging markets, European banks have a relatively small presence in most of them. Looking at the EU excluding the UK, bank claims are most significant in the CEE countries, with claims over 70% of GDP in the Czech Republic, 44% in Poland and 39% in Hungary. The next largest exposure is in Turkey, where EU + UK claims amount to almost 12% of GDP.

Minimal inflationary impact expected

Emerging market growth, then, looks susceptible to a number of headwinds, though many look likely to be minor. As for inflation, for now the most obvious channel for the referendum vote to affect this would be via the currency channel. However, the currency response in EM was pretty small, and that currencies have actually appreciated since. This implies a minimal inflationary impact. Another risk is that US data could come in stronger than expected, causing the market to start pricing in a rate hike for this year from the Federal Reserve. This would likely prompt dollar strength on a broad basis and so lead to currency weakness in EM. For now though, central banks should be able to cut rates to support growth where needed, without needing to worry unduly about inflation. Latin America (along with the other “Fragile Five countries”) have the most scope for this, much of Asia and EM Europe already have fairly low policy rates and so may need to turn to fiscal policy if the growth disturbance proves substantial.


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