Brazil, Russia, India, [the People’s Republic of] China (PRC) and South Africa are a quintet of emerging markets which proved the darlings of the global economy even throughout the financial crisis. In 2014, these five economies accounted for over 22% of global gross domestic product (GDP). In 2000, this figure was 8.2%. Though much of this is down to the growth in the juggernaut we call the PRC, the others have not slacked off since the turn of the century.

The BRICS now share the limelight, however. Four other economies have recently risen to swell the ranks of emerging market powerhouses: the MINT nations. Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey accounted for 4.6% of global GDP in 2014, admittedly relative tiddlers thanks to the inclusion of the PRC in the BRICS figures. Yet, in 2014, these four economies combined were 200% larger than in 2000. All this came as the economies of most developed countries fell in tatters.

So how did they get so big?

Similarities Make the Difference: Exporters Great and Small

A key factor shared by most of these countries is their richness in natural resources and commodities. Others are major exporters of finished goods. Russia is famously a huge hydrocarbons exporter; Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer. Brazil leads in exports of coffee, soybeans, raw sugar and bovine meat (though worryingly often at the Amazon’s expense). Brazil also joins Mexico in having a notable presence in offshore oil and gas production.

Indonesia boasts a range of commodities, from metal ores to coal and oil, as well as being a leading exporter of coconut oil (for the health conscious reader), palm oil (a key ingredient in Nutella and other chocolate confectionery, for those less inclined towards celery), and rubber. Again, this has often come at the expense of rainforest but has nonetheless created tremendous exports-based economic growth in recent years.                                                   

South Africa’s major exports read more like the Queen of Sheba’s shopping list. Diamonds, gold, platinum and other precious metals top the table, alongside the less shiny niobium, which is nonetheless useful if you’re in the market for a pacemaker (perhaps you’ve had a shock on being lumbered with the bill for all that jewellery) or need an MRI scan.

Turkey is a huge exporter of white goods (Beko, a manufacturer of kitchen appliances most Britons wouldn’t be without, is Turkish); Mexico is a major exporter of finished goods to the US, including cars and televisions. Any tourist visiting Turkey worth their salt (excuse the poor pun) has taken a Turkish mud bath, a symbol of the country’s rich mineral reserves. This includes the ingredients for an export in which Turkey leads the world: cement.

India exports relatively few commodities — it is actually hugely dependent on oil imports — but does excel in exporting services. Tech support, call centres and a host of other back office functions have been expatriated to India since the turn of the century, where a highly educated and often English-speaking population still offers notable cost savings compared with employing people for the same positions in their home markets.

The PRC is, of course, a major exporter of almost everything, having earned its stripes as the world’s workshop. As such, it devours raw materials, often from emerging market exporters, as fast as they can be produced, thus contributing to the enrichment of their fellow developing economies.

Paving Roads from Farm to Factory and the Blessings of Youth

Increasing urbanisation as subsistence farmers move into cities to work is a common theme in many of these economies, boosting agricultural efficiency (and thus agriculture-based GDP) and offering more workers for the manufacturing industry at a single stroke. The lure of cheap workers arriving from fields has seen huge labour outsourcing, particularly in manufacturing.

Most of these economies enjoy relatively young populations and high fertility rates, providing younger, fitter workers than those in many industrialised economies. Japan and Germany in particular suffer from a growing elderly population and sliding birthrate, shrinking workforces, upping the dependency ratio and threatening economic growth.

Not only this, but emerging markets have huge populations — in 2013, two in every five people on the planet lived in the PRC, India or Indonesia. This provides plenty of workers and, as these workers are enriched through work, explains why so many consumer goods companies are salivating over the prospects of the huge rising tide of emerging market middle class consumers.

Cash is King

Foreign investors, tired of poor returns in developed markets, have poured money into emerging markets. The result has been a range of economy-boosting projects. Meanwhile, the PRC has invested heavily in itself. Huge infrastructure projects have sprung up, from cities and airports to bridges, nuclear power plants and a hydroelectric dam so vast it has slowed the planet’s rotation beneath our feet.

The PRC is renowned for owning swathes of US debt, but most emerging economies mentioned also have sizeable dollar reserves (the PRC included). This is to guard against the threat of big foreign exchange outflows, but has also allowed countries to hold their currencies below where the market may otherwise have set them, keeping exports cheap.

Sustainability

Though diverse geographically and having undergone differing journeys, these economies share a number of common factors which have made them the giants they are today. The test will be whether this momentum can be maintained. The PRC is slowing, Brazil looks likely to enter recession and Russia faces the bite of sanctions. With US interest rates perhaps rising by the end of the year — the slightest hint of an (unrealised) rate rise in 2013 was enough to create an emerging markets ‘taper tantrum’ where cash flowed from emerging markets back to the US on expectations of better returns — the waters ahead seem far from calm.

Michael joined the company in October 2010 and works as Key Note's Lead Writer. He specialises in producing our range of financial services and insurance titles.