The year 2021 was one of recovery after the economic and health crisis. Most governments have followed spending policies since the mid-2020s to cushion the downturn and shore up the recovery. Although almost all countries followed Keynesian macroeconomic prescriptions, the intensity and effects in each country varied. How is the recovery going in Latin America, and what to expect for the region?
The monetary policy responses to the economic and health crisis due to covid-19 were to lower interest rates, the historical amounts of liquidity injected by central banks, and loans to the financial sector.
The implemented monetary policy, known as "quantitative easing", had the objective of halting the fall of the stock market, stimulating consumption, investment and employment which, in turn, would favor economic recovery.
The upcoming normalization of monetary policy will be a challenge for central banks. The experience gained with the 2008 crisis shows that normalization is a medium and long-term policy and there is uncertainty about what, how and when it will be.
Globally, inflation closed 2021 at its highest level in the last twenty years (40 years in the case of the US) and projections indicate that during 2022. However, even if it is lower than last year, we will continue to see it high in 2022. Why is it a top concern for governments, central banks and consumers?
Governments are concerned that central banks will speed up the normalization of interest rates in the face of high inflation rates. This would put a brake on economic recovery and job creation and, in some cases, would cause the deterioration of the fiscal balances of some countries that acquired debt to mitigate the effects of the economic contraction or slowdown.
The strategies followed by governments and central banks to control inflation will determine the economic conditions of the coming years and the ability of the world to recover from the economic contraction of 2020.
Evergrande's bankruptcy seems to be the most covered topic by the specialized press nowadays, they even foresee an economic crisis in China. The actual situation of the conglomerate does not mean a world crisis, although perhaps a problem for the Asian country.
China was the only large country to grow in 2020 and the first to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Its investment in fixed assets is one of the main drivers of growth. The gross value of the construction sector had a 19% growth in the second quarter of 2021, compared to 2020.
The Chinese outlook is not encouraging, but it is not catastrophic as posited. The Chinese government and press seem more concerned about international trade and energy supply than about the construction and banking sectors. The real estate bankruptcy may present a problem for the domestic market in the short term due to job losses, but experience shows that the government will not let it drift.
Global inflation is rising rapidly in a year of uneven growth rates, higher than estimated in the US and the European Union (EU), and lower for all but the Asian economies.
The question is why inflation is being discussed when consumer price indices in the US and EU are stable, and what effect these discussions have on international interest rates.
To counteract the inflations produced by these causes, central banks are preparing to readjust interest rates, which are currently at their lowest real levels in decades.
Latin American economies continue to recover thanks to the momentum of external and domestic demand. In some countries, both engines are warming up in coordination, while in others, the external one recovered faster. In several countries in the region, fiscal policies were implemented to reactivate domestic demand.
GDP is returning to its pre-pandemic levels thanks to the impulse of the main trading partners of Latin American countries and the price of raw materials, and to the support in monetary transfers to families and companies.
According to IMF estimates, Latin America's GDP will decrease 8.3% in 2020, while South America 8% and the Caribbean Basin 9.9% will be the most affected. Growth in 2021 will be higher in the southern countries than in the Basin, 3.8% and 3% respectively. With the return of international trade, the speed of recovery depends on domestic demand.
Central America was the region most affected by the supply and demand crisis in the Americas. However, there was a great disparity in the declines of each country. There are two groups, the first lost less than seven years of production, and the second more than ten.
The lost production years are calculated by comparing real GDP in the second quarter of 2020, when social distancing measures were implemented in the Americas, with the quarterly GDP closest to its value.
In the least affected countries, it was migrant labor and the anchoring with the U.S. economy, via the maquila, that allowed them to lose few years of production and to recover more than half of the lost years.
The Latin American countries that improved the most during the third quarter of 2020 are those that will continue to grow in 2021. Economic performance is influenced by previous growth, restrictions to avoid contagion from covid-19 and fiscal and monetary policies.
Costa Rica, Argentina, Jamaica, Ecuador and Chile had problems with large company exits, social unrest, dependence on the oil sector and tourism, making them the slowest rebounders in the third quarter of 2020. Mexico recovered a little less than half, the best performer among the least rebounding. Those that improved the most are Brazil, Nicaragua, Colombia and Peru.
The main risks to the 2021 improvement are: the evolution of the pandemic and vaccine availability; premature withdrawal of fiscal and monetary stimulus measures; global financial conditions allowing access to cheap financing; and the upward trend in commodity prices.
The stoppage of economic activities, caused by the covid1 pandemic, seriously affected Latin American economies during the first semester of 2020, 8 years of production were lost.
On average, Latin America lost eight years of production, while China lost only one, the United States six and the European Union 11. China, Europe, Argentina, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru and the Dominican Republic imposed mandatory quarantine.
The economic outcome of the infection prevention policies has been strongly determined by the economic growth of the last decade. When economic dynamics are low, the fall, driven by the closure of internal and external economic activities, causes a large contraction measured in terms of years of product. If the dynamics are high, a large fall leads only to a low reduction in production.
On December 31, 2019, the coronavirus (COVID-19) appeared in Wuhan, China. While this explains the speed of the stock market fall, it is not enough to explain why it resembles the experience of the 2008 - 2009 crisis.
The impact that has been presented cannot be understood without understanding the importance of China in global value chains. China is the source of 5 branches of the world economy: pharmochemistry, automotive, aeronautics, electronics and telecommunications.
What is certain is that the uncertainty about the dynamics of the real economy has impacted on the expectations in the stock markets and on economic growth in the world. The reactivation of production, whenever it occurs, will be slower than the previous dynamics.