Emerging market policymakers dare to hope for brighter 2023

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FILE PHOTO: People shop at a crowded market ahead of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, in the old quarters of Delhi

(Reuters) – Policymakers in Asia and Africa voiced growing economic optimism at a Reuters conference on Wednesday, chiming with a rally in emerging markets, an expected slowdown in U.S. rate hikes and an easing of COVID restrictions in China.

Finance ministers from India and crisis-stricken Sri Lanka and Zambia all gave upbeat outlooks at the Reuters NEXT event, on a day when emerging market shares were set to notch up their best month since May 2009.

South Korea’s central bank governor also struck an optimistic note in an interview aired at the conference, a mix of virtual sessions and an in-person event in New York.

Governor Rhee Chang-yong revealed that the bank expected its policy rate to peak at around 3.5% in the current business cycle, a short hop from the current level of 3.25%.

He also said a reopening of China could propel the South Korean economy in 2023. China is still struggling with COVID restrictions and anti-lockdown protests three years after the pandemic began, but it is showing signs of relaxing the rules.

“Actually if China loosens zero-COVID policy and reopens their borders and economy that will be a tremendous stimulus for us. I hope that it can happen soon,” Rhee added.

That remark lined up with global miner BHP Group Chief Executive Mike Henry, who told the conference that China looked set for continued economic growth over the next 20 years.

Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman forecast a “very good” economy ahead of 2024 national elections, fuelled by capital spending. Growth is officially seen at around 6.8%-7% for the year to March 31, in line with pre-pandemic rates.

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Sri Lanka and Zambia, both grappling with debt crises fuelled in part by large Chinese loans, also took heart from the improving global mood music on interest rates and inflation.

Sri Lanka, which collapsed this year into its worst financial turmoil since independence from Britain in 1948, aims to restore growth to pre-crisis levels in 2026.

State finance minister Shehan Semasinghe also said the nation was intent on meeting a December deadline to present plans to help unlock an International Monetary Fund bail-out.

Zambia, which defaulted on its sovereign debt in 2020, aims to complete its restructuring of nearly $15 billion of external debt in the first quarter of 2023, Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane said. Zambia is “in active engagement” with its largest bilateral creditor China, he added.

The prospects of slowing rate rises and inflation in the United States may have revived some spirits in emerging markets, but they have yet to brighten the mood in Europe and the United Kingdom.

Tightening financial conditions and the prospect of an economic recession are going to be a toxic brew for European shares going into 2023, according to a Reuters poll of fund managers and strategists.

To view the Reuters NEXT conference live on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, please click here

(Writing by Mark Bendeich; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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