By Zdenek Kudrna
Ajai Chopra, Deputy Director of the IMF’s European Department, is puzzled by the different performance of Central European 3 (CE3 - Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary) and Baltic 3 (B3 - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) in the current crisis. He provides an elegant macroeconomic analysis and contrasts their experience to that of the Asian Crisis a decade ago. However, his analysis fails to note important differences in CE3 and B3 industrial structures that influence the sustainability of their respective economic models throughout the crisis and subsequent recovery. Over the last two decades, the CE3 economies developed traditional economic model based on manufacturing that makes them less vulnerable to financial crisis then is the service-led model of the B3.
Chopra finds that CE3 avoided the much greater currency collapses witnessed in East Asia by ‘luck’ stemming from:
He then turns attention to the question why Baltics 3 have not been similarly ‘lucky’ and finds the key difference in:
These explanations scratch the surface of the more important differences that stems from export structures. It is true that 2 of the 3 Baltic countries operated euro pegs, but this hardly justifies their higher suggested propensity to (i) join euro, (ii) attract capital inflows, (iii) borrow in foreign currencies. The CE3 currencies were reasonably stable in pre-crisis years, likelihood of joining euro was not substantially different, capital inflows comparable and, at least in case of Hungary, unhedged forex borrowing by households was equally prevalent. Thus we are left with the current account deficit to explain the difference in CE3 and B3 crisis experiences.
The difference in past current account deficits as well as present crisis experiences has a lot to do with different proportions and types of manufacturing established in these economies. Over the last two decades, Baltic countries were busy building service oriented economies, much to the applause of the outside world. They were providing logistical services to booming Russian exports and turned capital inflows into asset bubbles. They inflated their amicable growth rates by selling overvalued real estate to each other. Such growth drivers all but evaporated in the crisis and they offer limited opportunities for export-led recovery that are already hampered by the need to sustain the currency peg.
The CE3 built old fashion manufacturing economies that produced “stuff” for exports. Much of the capital inflow were direct investments into export-oriented production facilities. They have also achieved some progress in upgrading into more sophisticated export goods and are thus more tightly integrated into global supply chains. In crisis their industries proved more susceptible to stimulus packages in their export markets (such as cash for clunkers subsidies in Germany) and to replenishment of inventories that seem to drive the recent “green shoots”. Moreover, depreciation of their currencies puts their export industries into a promising position for export-led recovery once their export markets (Germany) start to recover.
The scholars who stubbornly insisted that there is no sustainable development without industrialization and industrial upgrading seem to be vindicated by this comparative experience.
Aug 20, 2009
By Zdenek Kudrna