Europe, Images, Middle East, South Asia

Image of the Day – December 3, 2015 – Morocco the Outlier

As a result of the conflicts in Syria and Libya, Morocco has become the only state in the Middle East/North African region that is not or does not border a failed or semi-failed state.

Morocco’s next-door neighbour Algeria, in contrast, borders two or three such states, namely Libya, Mali, and Niger. Algeria might also be standing on politically shaky ground itself, as its economy is highly dependent upon exports of oil and gas and as its leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has governed the country since 1999 (during the Algerian Civil War from 1991-2002), has now reached 79 years old and has very serious health problems but no clear political successor.

Tunisia, meanwhile, in sandwiched narrowly between Libya, Algeria, and the depressed economy of southern Italy. Egypt borders Libya and Sudan and Gaza. Saudi Arabia borders Iraq and Yemen. Iran borders Iraq and Afghanistan. Turkey borders Iraq, Syria, and the economy of Greece. Sudan borders several troubled states and also remains troubled itself. Jordan borders Syria and Iraq. Lebanon borders Syria. Kuwait borders Iraq. Oman borders Yemen.

The West Bank Palestinian Territory, like Morocco, does not have failed-state neighbours: it is directly bordered only by Israel and Jordan. Still, Palestine cannot be said to be on this list with Morocco, since it is not independent and since it includes the more troubled Gaza Strip. Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, meanwhile, are no longer truly majority-Arab economies, as non-Arab foreign workers now significantly outnumber their own citizen labour forces.

Morocco is an outlier also in terms of its economy (it is a net importer of fossil fuels, unlike most other Arab economies) and in its geographic location at the outer edge of Africa and Europe. Though Morocco has not been able to capitalize much on these traits in the past – the country’s per capita GDP is under $4000 –  there are reasons to think that it will begin to outshine most other nations in the coming years.

Here are 5 factors to keep an eye out for:

1.  Ties to the Americas

Morocco has closer connections to the Western Hemisphere than do most other countries in the Arab world, for a number of reasons. One is geography: Morocco is an Atlantic country, and most people in North and South America live within the Atlantic basin. Marrakesh is 5900 km from Manhattan, 6900 km from Miami, and 4900 km from the easternmost edge of Brazil. By comparison, Marrakesh is 5400 km from the Saudi capital Riyadh, 4900 from Baghdad, and 3700 km from Cairo.

Another is language: millions of Moroccans can speak French, Spanish, or  (increasingly) English, which along with Portuguese are the languages spoken most often in the Americas.

Another is history: Morocco was not a British colony, so it does not have the same resentment against the English-speaking world that many other countries do. Also, it was liberated by the US and Britain relatively early on in the Second World War (insert Casablanca reference here).

And another is politics: the US wants at least one stable, large, non-Wahabbist political ally in the Arab world, and as a result it is views Morocco favourably. In addition, the US and British navies continues to require passage through the narrow Strait of Gibraltar between Morocco and Spain in order to access the Mediterranean.

(Morocco and the US struck a Free Trade Agreement in 2006. Outside of Canada, Australia, South Korea, Israel, Jordan, Oman, and some countries in Latin America, Morocco is the only country to have such an agreement with the US)

As the economies of Europe, East Asia, and most of the developing world are simultaneously struggling at the moment, whereas the economy of the United States remains relatively vibrant, Morocco’s linkages to the US and other countries in the Americas could provide it with a significant advantage over its peers.

2. Oil and Food Imports 

Falling commodity prices in recent years have left most Middle Eastern countries panicking, depending as they do upon energy export to maintain their economies. Morocco too could be hurt by the falling price of energy, as it has benefited in the past from tourism, investment, and financial transfers coming from oil-rich states like Saudi Arabia. Still, Morocco is not a net commodity exporter itself. Quite the opposite, in fact: as a share of GDP Morocco is one of the world’s biggest net oil importers among countries with significant-sized populations, and it is also one of the bigger food importers.

Morocco does not even trade much with its energy-exporting neighbour Algeria, as the two have been rivals of one another because of Morocco’s ongoing control of Western Sahara. Morocco does trade, however, with Spain and with Portugal, both countries that could benefit significantly should cheap oil and gas prices persist.

(Source: The World Bank; Wall Street Journal)

3. Spain’s Economic Recovery

Spain and Portugal have been in a very deep economic recession since the “global financial crisis” hit. The southern regions of Spain, meanwhile, have been in a Depression in which as recently as 2015 they had formal unemployment rates of well over 30 percent, higher even than in Greece. This has not been good for Morocco at all, which sits just 14 km across the Straits of Gibraltar from southern Spain. The two Spanish “ex-claves” in Morocco, Cueta and Melilla (which have a combined population of 165,000), have similar unemployment rates.

Since the beginning of 2015, however, Spain is thought to have been the fastest growing significant economy in “Western Europe” apart from Sweden or Ireland, and Portugal has also been doing much better than in previous years.  Meanwhile the heart of the “Eurocrisis” seems to have moved to Italy, which could be very bad for neighbouring Tunisia and so make Morocco even more of an outlier in terms of being a stable economy within the Arab world.

(Source: Eurostat)

(Morocco exports slightly more to France than to Spain, however given that France’s GDP is more than twice as large as Spain’s, this indicates Morocco’s closer economic ties to Spain)

4. Modern Communications

Morocco is a semi-rural country. According to the World Bank, 40% of Morocco’s population live in rural areas, compared, for example, to 57% in Egypt, 33% in Tunisia, 30% in Algeria, 31% in Iraq, 27% in Iran and Turkey, and just 17% in Saudi Arabia. Morocco is also the most mountainous country in the Arab world outside of Yemen, making many of its inhabitants – in particular its rural inhabitants –  somewhat isolated from one another as well as from the outside world. Morocco’s population could benefit from Internet and mobile phone access helping it to overcome this isolation, then.

Morocco might also benefit from modern communications because of its unique linguistic abilities: its population speaks four different prominent languages, namely Arabic (which is spoken not only in Arab countries, but also by at least tens of thousands of people in almost every Muslim country), French, Spanish, and (increasingly) English. Morocco is in fact one of the few countries outside of Spain or the Western Hemisphere in which significant numbers of people are capable of speaking Spanish. Moreover, if Spain and Portugal benefit from being able to forge closer connections with Spanish and Portuguese speakers in the Americas as a result of the Internet, Morocco could benefit indirectly from their success.

The Internet could be particularly useful in helping Morocco to connect usefully with the rest of the Arab world, which until now Morocco has been somewhat cut off from as a result of its faraway location – it is a five hour flight from Morocco’s biggest city Casablanca to Cairo, and nearly an eight hour flight from Casablanca to Dubai – and as a result of its poor political relationship with its next-door neighbour Algeria. Given that most of the Arab world’s population and almost all of the Arab world’s economic activity occurs in the Middle East (including Egypt) rather than in North Africa (excluding Egypt), the distance-shrinking effects of the modern Internet could be of special assistance to Morocco.










(above: Population by country; below: The Moroccan diaspora)








5. Self-Driving Vehicles 

Morocco is located at the front door of Western Europe. It has to cross just one border to reach Spain, two borders to reach France, and three borders to reach Germany, Britain, or Italy. (By comparison, Turkey has to cross at least five borders to reach Germany or Italy by land, six to reach France, and seven to reach Britain or Spain). Still, Morocco cannot yet seamlessly access these countries.

It is, for example, 2350 km from Casablanca to Paris by land, a route which crosses the Strait of Gibraltar as well as a number of mountain ranges in Morocco, Spain, and southern France. This can make transport difficult, particularly by train. Trains cannot easily drive on and off of ships like trucks can, and they cannot handle steep inclines and sharp curves in mountainous areas as easily as trucks (particularly small trucks) can.

Indeed Morocco has only the 71st largest railway network in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook, smaller even than Tunisia’s. Spain has a much larger rail network, of course, just not once you account for Spain’s economic size. Moreover, few lines cross the Pyrenees Mountains on Spanish-French border, and Spain’s railways mostly use a different rail gauge as France’s, so the two systems to do not always link up quickly.

Smarter cars and trucks — and, eventually perhaps, self-driving cars and trucks — would be a boon for countries in the mountainous Mediterranean region, notably Morocco but also Algeria, Spain, Italy, southern France, Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans. They could make it safer and cheaper for cars and trucks to navigate difficult mountain roads. For Morocco, they could also make it easier to manage the long delay trucks typically face in crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, a body of water that is often too stormy to cross. If this happens, then the lack of national borders separating Morocco from large economies in Western Europe could become a significant economic advantage.

Over the longer-term, self-driving vehicles could also help Morocco to leverage its location as the sole land bridge between Western Europe and the huge region of Western Africa.

Economies in Western Africa often have a difficult time reaching European markets by sea. Either they are landlocked (approximately 70 million people live in landlocked countries in Western Africa, and many more are part of landlocked groups within non-landlocked countries, like the nearly 60 million Hausa or Fulani of Muslim-majority northern Nigeria), or they have to sail all the way around West Africa to reach Europe (most notably in countries like Nigeria — see map below — where most of the population of Western Africa lives), or they lack access to good natural harbours and ports (in the Nigerian megacity of Lagos, for example, “the [shipping] terminals are both practically in the city centre, so it can take an entire day for a lorry to get [through traffic] from the terminal to a warehouse“, according to the Economist), or their ships are subject to piracy.

The alternative to maritime shipping is to cross the Sahara Desert. That is, of course, far easier said than done: the routes across the Sahara are long, difficult, and dangerous. Still, they have a shot to become economical, given the challenges involved in the the sea route. Driverless trucks, which are both safer and cheaper than having a human driver risk crossing both the Sahara Desert and Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, could perhaps tilt the balance (in some cases, at least) between the land and sea routes. If this occured, it would reverse the process that began in the 1400s, when it first became easier to reach this region by ship than by caravan.

Finally, self-driving vehicles could perhaps make it easier for Morocco to access markets in Latin America. Most people in Latin America live in southern Brazil,  around Sao Paolo, and in neighbouring northern Argentina, around Buenos Aires. (The state of Sao Paolo alone accounts for an estimated 32% percent of Brazil’s GDP, without even taking into account neighbouring Rio de Janeiro). Yet this is a long sail from Morocco. It would instead be much quicker for ships to land somewhere around the eastern tip of Brazil and then drive overland to cities like Sao Paolo (see map below). Thus far it has been difficult to drive the more than 2000 km that this route is made up of, however, as it crosses long distances through Brazil’s eastern coastal mountains. Brazil’s traffic jams and road conditions are notoriously difficult to deal with; this route could certainly use a big boost from technology.

(Morocco controls Western Sahara)

Africa, East Asia, Middle East, South Asia

the PIPEs are Calling

 After accounting for more than a third of the world’s economic growth since 2003, the BRIC economies – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – are likely to slow in the decade ahead. Here are six reasons why that is:

1.      Higher Incomes 

According to the World Bank, average incomes have reached $7000 in China, $11,000 in Brazil, and $14,000 in Russia. Unlike a decade ago, when Chinese average incomes were still around $1000 and Russian and Brazilian incomes $3000, today only India, with an average income of less than $1500, remains competitive with most other developing nations in being able to supply cheap labour, goods, and services.

2.      Aging Populations

China and Russia have populations that are aging rapidly relative to the majority of developing economies. 12% of Chinese and 18% of Russians are over the age of 60, compared to just 7.5% of people in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, and 5% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa. China’s most populous generation is currently 40 – 50 years old, and Russia’s is 50-65 years old. By  contrast, in most other developing economies the largest generation is somewhere between 0-35 years old.

3.      Dependence on Coal

China, India, and Russia are three of the world’s four largest consumers of coal and emitters of carbon dioxide. China derives 70% of its energy from coal, almost double that of any other country. India derives 40-50% of its energy from coal, a greater share than any country apart from China or South Africa.  This makes these countries highly polluted, vulnerable to fluctuations in coal prices, and at risk of angering countries afraid of climate change.

4.      Dependence on Exports

Exports account for 30 – 35% of the economic output of China and Russia. This is compared to only 10 – 15% for the US, Japan, the European Union, Brazil, and Pakistan, and between 15 – 30% for most other countries. This means that China and Russia are now relatively vulnerable to economic events that are beyond their ability to control. Russia, for example, experienced a decline in its economic growth rate from 7.5% between 2003 and 2007 to just 1% since 2007, in large part as a result of the languishing European economy that consumes the vast share of its exports.

5.      Dependence on Imports or Exports of Natural Resources

India has become dependent on importing foreign oil, mostly from the Middle East. Imports now account for more than 75% of India’s oil consumption and nearly 30% of India’s overall energy consumption. This has led India to develop the world’s largest trade deficit apart from the United States and Britain, in spite of having a massive wage-competitive workforce that produce goods and services for export.

China is not nearly as dependent on importing oil as India is, since so much of its energy comes from coal it produces domestically. However, China does depend heavily on imports for a number of natural resources of which it is the world’s largest consumer. These include copper, lead, nickel, zinc, tin, iron ore, timber, rubber, cotton, wool, and soybeans. In some cases this dependence is extreme: for example, China imports 85% of the copper and nickel it consumes, even as it consumes more than four times as much copper and three times as much nickel as any other country in the world. China also depends on imports for roughly two-third of its oil, though it is only the world’s second largest consumer of oil, still well behind the United States.

Russia’s economy, on the other hand, has become too dependent on exporting natural resources. An estimated 30% of Russian gdp comes from the production and sale of fossil fuels alone, even as Russia is also a leading exporter of a number of other commodities, such as diamonds, timber, and aluminum. If the profit margins of oil, gas, or natural resources in general decline, so too will the Russian economy. To a lesser extent this may also be true of the commodities Brazil produces: iron ore, crude oil, soybeans, and sugar account for an estimated 40% of Brazilian exports. (Brazil’s economy, however, is not very dependent on exports in general, so it could probably withstand low commodity prices better than Russia could).

6.      Income Inequality

Brazil has the highest income inequality levels of any large country. Russia, China, and India are not far behind. These inequalities are not limited to class-based or urban-rural divisions, but also include significant provincial and regional disparities. In China, for example, the 27 million inhabitants of Shanghai and Hong Kong have an average income that is 8 and 14 times higher, respectively, than that of the 65 million inhabitants of Guizhou and Gansu. In India, the 112 million inhabitants of Maharashtra have an average income 5 times higher than the 103 million inhabitants of Bihar. By comparison, average incomes in New York City are only 2.3 times higher than they are in Mississippi.

Life after BRICs

With the BRIC economies primed to slow down, a new emerging-market acronym is needed – at least, for the type of people who like such acronyms. Goldman Sachs, who’s chief economist Jim O’Neil coined BRIC over a decade ago, has since introduced MIST – referring to Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, and Turkey. The Economist magazine and HSBC bank, meanwhile, have been pushing CIVETS, for Columbia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa. Investors have responded in both cases, purchasing tailor-made financial instruments that target the MIST and CIVETS countries. Each of these instruments received over a billion dollars of investment in 2013.

Both MIST and CIVETS are flawed, however. The MIST countries have almost nothing in common with one another, apart from the notable fact that they are all among the world’s 14-17th largest economies. Average incomes in Indonesia are three times lower than in Mexico and Turkey, and six times lower than in South Korea. Indonesia`s population is nearly five times larger than South Korea`s. South Korea relies on exports for 57% of its economic output, compared to only 25% for Turkey and Indonesia. Indonesia and Mexico are both leading natural resource exporters, while South Korea and Turkey are leading resource importers. 75% of Mexico’s exports go to the United States, compared to just 4% of Turkey’s. 31% of South Korea’s exports go to China, compared to just 4% of Turkey’s and 2% of Mexico’s. 50% of Turkey’s exports go to Europe, compared to 12% of South Korea’s and Indonesia’s and 6% of Mexico’s.

The CIVETS have even less in common. Indonesia has an economy that is more than six times larger than that of Vietnam, and a population that is four and a half times larger than those of Colombia and South Africa. Turkey’s average income is nine times higher than Vietnam’s. Columbia, South Africa, and Indonesia are all major exporters of natural resources, while Turkey is one of the largest resource importers. Vietnam depends on exports for 80% of its economic output, while Egypt and Colombia depend on exports for only 18% of their economic output, and none of the other CIVETS for more than 28% of their economic output. Over 40% of Colombia`s trade is with the United States, while 50% of Turkey`s is with Europe and 45% of Vietnam`s is with Northeast Asia.

It is true, of course, that all emerging market acronyms will inevitably be over-simplistic. Even in the case of the BRICs there were enormous differences between countries: China`s economy, for example, is thought to be larger than those of India, Brazil, and Russia combined, and the populations of China and India are significantly larger and poorer than those of Brazil and Russia. That being said, the BRICs grouping still makes some sense, perhaps, because the BRICs are the only developing countries to be among the world`s ten largest economies, nine largest populations, and seven largest landmasses. Furthermore, when BRICs was invented back in 2001, China`s economy was not nearly as far ahead of Brazil, India, and Russia as it is now, so the acronym made more sense at the time.

By comparison to BRIC, therefore, MIST and CIVETS seem to make little sense. For this reason, it may be appropriate to try to create a new acronym, one that can be of greater use to investors and other people interested in emerging markets. (Yes, there is no real reason to make such acronyms at all, but since it does not seem that they are going to stop being made and trumpeted by the media anyway, there might as well be a more fitting successor to BRICs than has been given thus far). So, with that in mind, let us now introduce the PIPE economies: the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Egypt.

Meet the PIPEs

The PIPEs share a lot of noteworthy qualities. All have average incomes between $1300-3600 – or average incomes of $2600-3600 if Pakistan is excluded. All are among the 15 most populous countries in the world. All are among the six most populous countries in which average incomes are higher than $800 and lower than $6000. All except for Indonesia have GDP’s between $230-260 billion: indeed, Pakistan, Egypt, and the Philippines are the world’s 38th, 39th, and 42nd largest economies.

(Update, a year later: So far so good. In 2014, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Egypt had the four best-performing stock markets in the world outside of India, Argentina, Sri Lanka, and China-sans-Hong Kong) 

None of the PIPEs is too dependent on any single part of the world to consume their exports. Rather, they are each relatively well-diversified in their trade patterns between North America, Europe, Northeast Asia, and Southern Asia. None, for example, conduct more than 15% of their trade with any single country. Each conducts between 9-12% of their trade with the United States and 9-15% of their trade with China. None depend on exports for more than 26% of their gdp’s, for an average of just 20%.

All of the PIPEs have young populations, with between 6-9 % of their populations over the age of 60. All have fertility rates between 2-3 children per mother. All except the Philippines are Muslim – and the Philippines has a relatively large Muslim minority, accounting for 5 -10% of its total population.

All the PIPEs except Egypt have external debts equal to between 28-32% of their gross domestic products; they are three of the five economies in the world to be within this range, which is slightly lower than the average for developing countries. Egypt, meanwhile, has an external debt of 14%, one of the lowest in the world.

In terms of income inequality, the Philippines is the only PIPE to score poorly, according to the World Bank’s GINI Index. However, the Philippines still ranked as less unequal than China, Malaysia, or almost any country in Latin America or Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Philippines and Indonesia are both tropical archipelagos in Southeast Asia, and possess the first and second longest non-Arctic coastlines in the world. Egypt and Pakistan are both arid states located in the Greater Middle East, and are the first and second largest countries in the world to be oriented almost completely around a single river system (the Nile in Egypt, the Indus in Pakistan).

All the PIPEs except Indonesia are among the best English-speaking countries in the developing world. The Philippines is the world`s largest English-speaking emerging market (proportional to its population), while Pakistan is tied with Nigeria for second and Egypt is fifth. Indeed, in the Philippines, 57% of the population can speak English, compared to just 1-27% for the other developing countries in East Asia. In Pakistan, an estimated 49% of the population can speak English, compared to only 15-20% for its neighbours India and Bangladesh. In Egypt, 35% can speak English, compared to less than 20% in Turkey and less than 10% in most Arab countries. (Note: these language statistics need to be taken with an especially large grain of salt). 

In Indonesia, only an estimated 20% of Indonesians can speak English, which is about the middle of the pack for developing countries; less than Thailand, for example, but well ahead of Vietnam or Cambodia. However, because Indonesia is by far the most linguistically diverse country in the world, it may be that its proficiency in English will increase rapidly, so that English will join or perhaps even replace Bahasa Indonesia as the country’s primary lingua franca. Indeed, less than 10% of Indonesians speak Bahasa as a first language, and an estimated 90 million Indonesians barely speak Bahasa at all.

As a result, with Indonesia’s former colonial language, Dutch, having long disappeared from everyday life, many Indonesian children living in urban areas are now learning English significantly better than they are Bahasa. Indonesia was the world’s fourth-fastest adopter of English in 2013, for example, according to English First. In fact, Indonesia’s move towards English is not only due to its linguistic diversity, but also because it attracts more global tourism than any country in Southeast Asia apart from Thailand, and because it has close economic relationships with its two English-speaking next-door neighbours, Australia and Singapore.

All of the PIPE’s are located in areas that are likely to become the new centers of global trade in the years and decades ahead. As the economies of Asia and Africa emerge, the waterways linking the Indian Ocean to the Pacific and the Mediterranean are likely to become by far the most heavily trafficked trade corridors in the world. Indonesia and Egypt surround the two most important of these waterways: the Suez Canal and the Indonesian Straits. One of the Indonesian Straits, the Strait of Malacca, is in fact already the most heavily trafficked waterway in the world.

indian ocean

Pakistan, meanwhile, is centrally located in the Indian Ocean, almost exactly halfway between the Mediterranean and the Pacific. Pakistan also directly borders the Strait of Hormuz, the channel through which an estimated 35-40% of the world`s seaborne oil shipments and much of the world’s liquefied natural gas pass through each year. Finally, Pakistan is, along with Iran, the only country to border the oceanic trade routes of the Indian Ocean and the overland trade routes of Central Asia simultaneously.

The Philippines is also favorably located relative to the world’s major trade routes. Along with Indonesia, the Philippines is the only country situated in the part of the Pacific Ocean that connects Northeast Asia to both the Indian Ocean and  to Australia and New Zealand. In addition, the Philippines is, to a greater extent than any other Southeast Asian naion with the exception of Indonesia and Malaysia, located amidst the main crossroads of trade between Asia and the Americas.

trade routes

None of the PIPEs are dependent on coal for more than 22% of their energy usage, for an average of just 14%. Only Indonesia derives a significant share of its wealth from exporting commodities — and even Indonesia is not dependent on commodity exports when compared to many of the world’s other resource-rich developing economies. Exports are only equivalent to 24% of Indonesian gdp, compared, for example, to between 55% and 95% of the gdp’s of leading energy exporters like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Libya, Angola, and Azerbaijan.

Also unlike many other commodity exporting economies, Indonesia is not overly dependent on the price of oil and natural gas. Rather, in addition to being the world’s 7th largest net exporter of natural gas and 20th largest of oil, Indonesia is also the world’s largest exporter of coal, rubber, tin, nickel, coconut oil, palm oil, and aluminum ore.

Of course, the PIPEs are not risk-free environments. Like many other developing nations, the flip-side to their economic growth potential is their vulnerability to natural disasters and political upheaval, both of which may intensify as a result of factors like population growth or climate change. In addition, developing countries also tend to have a lot of exposure to the Chinese economy, the growth of which may be likely to slow or even crash at some point in the years ahead.

Indonesia and the Philippines could be particularly vulnerable to dangers such as these. While their direct trade exposure to China is relatively low, it is still high compared to most countries outside of East Asia. Plus, Indonesia and the Philippines trade a fair amount with other East Asian states, some of which have enormous trade relationships with China.

Finally, even though the fact that the Philippines and Indonesia have the world’s longest tropical coastlines may lead to great opportunities for their tourism and trade, it could also present serious storm and flooding threats. They are also at risk from earthquakes and, in some cases, volcanoes. The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2003, in which an estimated 200,000  people were killed in Indonesia alone, is of course the most tragic manifestation of such dangers to have yet occurred in the twenty-first century.