New tigers burn bright on world economic stage economies

The 1980s was the decade of East Asia, as the tiger economies of Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore shot ahead of their neighbours. The 1990s may be the decade of South America, according to a report from American Express Bank.

It says that a group of "near tigers" have emerged over the past 10 years, showing economic success on a par with the first group of developing economies to emerge as economic powerhouses. Indonesia, the Philippines, the Czech Republic, Argentina, Chile and Vietnam are all making progress, it says.

Amex has rated each emerging economy with reference to its macroeconomic stability, human capital, market orientation, export orientation and developmental orientation. Taking a 10-year period, it says the biggest improvements have been in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, China, the Philippines and Vietnam. "Latin America has been lagging, but has been improving particularly fast," says the report. Peru and the Dominican Republic are also becoming attractive propositions.

The assessment is based on a decade when financial and economic liberalisation, privatisation and the introduction of free-market reform came to most developing countries and to the former communist states of Europe. International bankers suddenly discovered an interest in investing in countries as diverse as Dominican Republic, Thailand and Morocco. The so-called "emerging markets" have become an investment sector in themselves.

The fact that an international bank finds these countries interesting may not necessarily be good news. Much of the evidence suggests that rapid economic development in East Asia, while reducing poverty sharply, has not always reduced inequality. Equally, growth and democracy have not always been partners. And Taiwan, one of the original tigers, has actually slipped a little in terms of economic performance since its heyday in the mid 1980s.

Several eastern European countries have actually slipped backwards over the last decade, Amex says. In particular, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria are all less appealing investment prospects. However, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary have all improved.

In the Middle East, Israel and Jordan are both making progress, Amex says. The most depressing news is that Africa is still a slough of despond, economically at least. Only Ghana and Kenya show progress.

In general, however, Amex is optimistic about the developing world. "The current emerging market enthusiasm, characterised by tight lending spreads, the strong performance of Brady and other debt instruments and long-term bond issues by emerging market issuers reflects this positive outlook," the report says.

Tight lending spreads means that developing countries can increasingly borrow at more advantageous rates; Brady bonds, named after former US Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady, were developed to help debtor countries escape from the circle of debt and poverty.

Ready to pounce

TIGERS:

Singapore

South Korea

Hong Kong

Malaysia

Thailand

China NEAR-TIGERS

Philippines

Czech Republic

Argentina

Chile

Taiwan

Vietnam

Indonesia

TIGER CUBS

Poland

Colombia

Israel

Jordan

Panama

Portugal

Slovakia

Sri Lanka

Mexico

Uruguay

Source: American Express Bank

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