Commodities have been the engine of growth for many sub-Saharan countries. Oil rich nations such as Nigeria, South Africa and Angola have accounted for over 50% of the region’s GDP whilst other resource-intensive countries such as Zambia, Ghana and Tanzania to a lesser extent.
I have mentioned the ‘resource curse’ in many postings since starting this blog. It affects economies like in sub-Sahara Africa which have a lot of natural resources – energy and minerals. The curse comes in two forms:
- With high revenues from the sale of a resource, governments try and seek to control the assets and use the money to maintain a political monopoly.
- This is where you find that from the sale of your important natural resource there is greater demand for your currency which in turn pushes up its value. This makes other exports less competitive so that when the natural resource runs out the economy has no other good/service to fall back on.
However it is the fall in commodity prices that is now hitting these countries that have, in the past, been plagued by the resource curse. As a lot of commodities tend to be inelastic in demand so a drop in price means a fall in total revenue since the the proportionate drop in price is greater than the proportionate increase in quantity demanded.
The regional growth rate for 2016 is approximately 1.4% but it is not looking good for commodity driven economies:
- Nigeria – oil – 2016 GDP = -2%
- Angola – oil – 2016 GDP = 0%
- South Africa – gold – 2016 GDP = 0%
In 2016 resource rich countries will only grow by 0.3% and commodity exporting countries have seen their exports to China fall by around 50% in 2015. Furthermore, public debt is mounting and exchange rates are falling adding to the cost of imports. With less export revenue the level of domestic consumption has also decreased.
It is a different story for the non-resource countries of sub-Sahara. It is estimated by the IMF that they will grow at 5.6%. By contrast they have been helped by falling oil prices which has reduced their import bill and public infrastructure spending which has increased consumption.
As is pointed out by The Economist numbers should be read wearily as GDP figures are only ever a best guess, and the large informal economy in most African states makes the calculation even harder. Africa may have enormous natural reserves of resources, but so far most Africans haven’t felt the benefit. In Nigeria, for instance, what’s seen as a failure to spread the country’s oil wealth to the country’s poorest people has led to violent unrest. However, this economic paradox known as the resource curse has been paramount in Africa’s inability to benefit from resources. There is a gravitation towards the petroleum industry which drains other sectors of the economy, including agriculture and traditional industries, as well as increasing its reliance on imports. What is needed is diversification.
With oil prices being at historically low levels, oil exporting countries have been struggling to generate the revenue that was once apparent not so long ago. In Venezuela, for instance, oil accounts for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings and plummeting world prices have severely hit the government’s revenue stream. The Middle Eastern countries with their abundant supply of oil and the ease at which it extracts it, are starting to look at alternative revenue streams as the rent from oil is no longer sufficient to sustain public goods and services. As noted in The Economist the Arab world can be divided into three broad categories:
- Resource-rich, labour-poor – Gulf sheikhdoms with lots of oil and gas but few people;
- Resource-rich, labour-abundant – Algeria and Iraq, that have natural resources and larger populations;
- Resource-poor, labour-abundant – Egypt, that have little or no oil and gas but lots of mouths to feed (see chart).
To a degree the whole Arab world is an oil-driven economy: all three groups tend to rise and fall with the price of oil. However although some countries have significant reserves of wealth this does not offer an alternative to weaning them off their dependence on the oil industry. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 intends to be free of oil dependence by 2020 and among the proposals is a plan to launch a new defence company, combining Saudi industries under a single company and be floated on the Saudi Stock Exchange.
The country plans to list less than 5 per cent of Aramco (Saudi Arabian Oil Co), which is worth more than US$2 trillion. The sale of Armco would be big enough to buy Apple Inc., Google parent Alphabet Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. – the world’s four largest publicly traded companies. The plan is for the government to be a lot more prudent in its spending and making sure that the budget deficit doesn’t exceed 15% of GDP which is a very high figure. Furthermore using the private sector to provide education and health care as well as selling valuable land to developers, will reduce the burden of the State. But this will bring about significant social change that the population of Saudi Arabia may not be prepared for. As The Economist said:
A generation of men that expected to be paid for do-nothing government jobs will have to learn to work. The talents of women, who already make up the majority of new university graduates, will have to be harnessed better. But for now even the limited reforms to give women more opportunities have gone into reverse. To achieve its goals, Saudi Arabia will have to promote transparency and international norms, which will mean overcoming resistance from the powerful religious establishment and the sprawling royal family.
Source: The Economist – May 14th 2016
For most economies that have natural endowments like oil (Saudi Arabia) or minerals, there is the risk of the economy experiencing the ‘resource curse’. This is when a natural resource begins to run out, or if there is a downturn in price, manufacturing industries that used to be competitive find it extremely difficult to return to an environment of profitability. According to Paul Collier, Nigeria has a resource curse of its own, the civil war trapin which 73% of the low income population have been affected by it, as well as a natural resource trap- where the so-called advantages of a commodity in monetary value did not eventuate – on average affecting only 30% of the low income population. It seems that in Nigeria there is a strong relationship between resource wealth and poor economic performance, poor governance and the prospect of civil conflicts. The comparative advantage of oil wealth in fact turns out to be a curse. governments and insurgent groups that determines the risk of conflict, not the ethnic or religious diversity. Others see oil as a “resource curse” due to the fact that it reduces the desire for democracy.
Click here for more on the Resource Curse from this blog
Although Norway is a capitalist country, it is state-owned enterprises that seem to be most prevalent in business circles. Oil revenues have been at the forefront of Norway’s development and it is, behind Luxembourg, the richest country in Europe. Ultimately the economic welfare of the country is heavily influenced by the price of oil and the peak of $150 a barrel in 2008 had huge benefits for the government purse. Oil and gas now account for about 25% of Norway’s GDP and almost 50% of its exports. However with the recent fall in oil prices to below $50 a barrel, oil companies have had to lay off workers – estimated to be 30%. According to The Economist the falling oil price has exposed two weaknesses in the Norwegian economy.
- Bureaucracy is a problem in Norway with the government owning about 40% of the stockmarket. Furthermore, as the vast majority of the country’s top executives attend the Norwegian School of Economics there is an unhealthy cultural uniformity which is not a catalyst to change.
- The welfare state has been too generous. The public sector employs 33% of the workforce (compared to 19% for the OECD countries) and as people enjoy a 37 hour week and sometimes a 3 day weekend there is a concern that the state is undermining the work ethic. In 2011 Norway spent 3.9% of GDP on incapacity benefits and early retirement, compared with an OECD average of 2.2%.
However, the government has been very prudent with its saving in that it now has the biggest sovereign-wealth fund in the world at $873 billion. The country also has a fish industry which is worth $10 billion a year.
Where to from here?
Are we seeing a classic resource curse where an economy has become reliant on a particular resource? Does Norway have a real alternative to oil to generate revenue for its economy?
Norway needs to allow the entrepreneurial spirit more room to grow and also apply some free market reforms to the welfare state. Shrinking the role of the state will help as the private sector cold start to be more involved in the running of schools, hospitals, and surgeries. So far the country’s reaction to the oil price drop is to be become even more left wing especially in the cities of Bergen and Oslo.
Source: The Economist – Norwegian Blues – October 10th 2015
I have mentioned the resource curse in previous posts especially those countries with natural resources. Below is an extract from a previous post.
Africa may have enormous natural reserves of oil, but so far most Africans haven’t felt the benefit. In Nigeria, for instance, what’s seen as a failure to spread the country’s oil wealth to the country’s poorest people has led to violent unrest. However, this economic paradox known as the resource curse has been paramount in Africa’s inability to benefit from oil. This refers to the fact that once countries start to export oil their exchange rate – sometimes know as a petrocurrency – appreciates making other exports uncompetitive and imports cheaper. At the same time there is a gravitation towards the petroleum industry which drains other sectors of the economy, including agriculture and traditional industries, as well as increasing its reliance on imports.
For New Zealand it seems to be working in reverse. New Zealand’s biggest export earner is dairy and with prices dropping by 23% since last year and the outlook of continued monetary easing from the RBNZ the dollar has dropped from US$0.77 on 27th April to US$0.67 today – a level not seen since 2010.
However, going against what the resource curse suggests, the weaker exchange rate will provide extra revenue for exports like the tourism industry which has been enjoying high numbers especially from Asia. Furthermore, there have been suggestions that it could surpass the dairy industry as the biggest earner of export receipts. There are further benefits for domestic companies competing against imports as the weaker dollar makes competing overseas goods more expensive relative to those produced in New Zealand.
I’ve written a lot on this blog about the resource curse and how it is an economic paradox. It refers to the fact that once countries start to export a natural resource like oil their exchange rate appreciates making other exports uncompetitive and imports cheaper. At the same time there is a gravitation towards the natural resource industry which drains other sectors of the economy, including agriculture and traditional industries, as well as increasing its reliance on imports.
For New Zealand there is a similar scenario with a reliance on the dairy industry and the Chinese market for trade.
The BNZ Economy Watch reported that dairy contributed the most (63 percent) to the total exports to China, valued at $774 million, in November 2013. This is the highest value of dairy exports to China for any month. Total dairy exports were valued at $1.7 billion – also the highest for any month.
China is now our top export destination on an annual basis, just under two years after it became our top annual imports partner in December 2011, industry and labour statistics manager Louise Holmes-Oliver said. In November 2013, goods exports were valued at $4.5 billion, up $647 million (17 percent) from November 2012. Exports to China hit record levels in October 2013 and November 2013. Exports to China were valued at $1.2 billion. In 2013 China accounted for 22% of NZ’s goods exports, 17% of NZ’s goods imports and 20% of total two-way goods trade.
The last thing New Zealand wants to become is nothing more than a milk powder exporter to China. Economic diversification is as important as investment diversification from a risk profile perspective. The answer is not to kill off existing trading relationships or reduce dairy production but to look to other sectors to play a bigger part. Furthermore if the purchaser gets too dominant they can exploit monopsony power.
Since the Aussie dollar was floated in 1983 its value closely followed that of its commodity exports – see graph from The Economist. However since 2003 commodity prices have increased 400% but the dollar rose by much less and no longer had a direct relationship to commodity prices. There are 3 possible reasons for this:
1. The deregulation of financial markets which facilitates the ease of currency trading
2. The current account deficit in Australia which got to 6.2% of GDP in 2007
3. Interest rates in Australia up to the GFC were realtively low compared to other developed countries
2011 saw commodity prices drop but the Aussie dollar has remained strong. As most economies employed a lose monetary policy and proceeded to drop interest rates aggressively after the GFC, the Aussie economy didn’t in fact go through a recession and its interest rates remained relatively strong – see below.
Although a weaker exchange rate could help the Aussie economy especially as it has been susceptible to the resource curse – the strength of the exchange rate and higher interest rates is already putting pressure on some industries, particularly the tourism, manufacturing, education exports and retail industries.
One cannot underestimate the importance of copper to the Chilean economy. Copper provides 20% of Chile’s GDP and makes up 60% of its exports. Chile’s economy is growing at approximately 6% per year while inflation is at 1% and unemployment 6.4%. Although Chile does have a productive agricultural sector and tourism, the price of copper does have a significant impact on the economy.
Chile has done very well out of the shift of China’s rural population to the more urban areas – new homes with copper wire and pipes are needed. Furthermore Emerging markets everywhere are using vast amounts of copper to put in bridges, cars, fridges and more or less anything that uses electricity. However China’s recent slowdown has caused copper prices to slide by 15% since the beginning of the year.
The Economist reported that in 2000-05 the government’s income from mining averaged $2.1 billion a year. As Chinese growth accelerated, that rose to $11.5 billion a year between 2005 and 2011. But the boom owed almost everything to the copper price. Chile’s output of the red metal has hardly grown in a decade.
The biggest threat to Chile’s copper boom comes from China. If the country that buys 40% of the world’s copper slows further, the price of the metal will fall again and Chile will have rely on something else. Is this another resource curse waiting to happen? Below is a short report from AlJazeerah which also looks at the positives from lower copper prices – lower currency value, the peso, and ultimately more competitive exports.