Cheaper Oil May Hurt More Than Help Importers, Citigroup Says

  • Sovereign wealth funds cut EM investments $50 billion in 2015
  • Oil exporters may post 1st current account deficit since 1998

Lower oil prices may prove to be more a curse than a blessing for commodity importers in developing nations.

That is because oil-exporting countries will liquidate their investments in emerging markets to plug the shortfall in revenues, according to Citigroup Inc. The capital outflows will more than offset the cost savings from cheaper import bills for countries such as Turkey and India, undermining economic growth.

Sovereign wealth funds in oil-producing nations “help to create the global liquidity that generates capital flows to EM,” David Lubin, London-based head of emerging-market economics at Citigroup, wrote in a report Monday. “As that liquidity disappears, capital flows and growth could continue to suffer.” Lubin correctly forecast in February 2014 that the rout of emerging-market currencies would continue.

Crude exporters will post their first deficit in current accounts, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, this year since 1998, forcing them to retreat from global capital markets, Lubin said, citing forecasts by the International Monetary Fund. Crude oil prices have dropped 34 percent over the past year and have reached the lowest since 2003.

Sovereign wealth funds in oil-producing nations, which amassed $4 trillion in assets as one of the major forces in global financing, cut their investments in developing nations by $50 billion last year to $550 billion, said Lubin, citing estimates from the Institute of International Finance.

Oil Prices

Growth in emerging markets is already under pressure. Excluding China, developing countries grew slower than advanced economies last year for the first time since 2003, according to Citigroup. Falling oil prices only add to the dismal outlook because “oil importers do not gain to the same extent as oil exporters lose,” said Lubin.

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