The Financial Crisis of 2008/09 led to a structural break in financial globalisation, setting cross-border capital flows back to the average of the 1990s. Do differences between cross-border financial flows of the Global North and Global South disqualify the financial slowdown as deglobalisation? Will the 21st Century be a deglobalised century, or are we just witnessing a new (and maybe better) face of financial globalisation?
While it is clear that trade flows collapsed and slowed down after the global financial crisis of 2008/2009 and that deglobalisation in terms of international trade has occurred ever since, the picture is less clear for capital flows. Forbes argues that financial deglobalisation is visible in the sharp and sustained decline in cross-border financial flows associated with the recent global financial crisis, with no signs of recovery. Leading think tanks and international organisations, such as the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have, however, argued that financial deglobalisation is not a reality because the decrease of financial flows is not a broad-based and sustained phenomenon. Closer scrutiny of data related to this can help us to better understand whether financial deglobalisation is happening or not.
|Graph 1: Cross-border financial flows (share of world GDP) reached a peak before the crisis and have since been at a lower level, with indications that they are now flattening out|
|Source: own elaboration based on IFS and WEO databases (2018) (see IMF data)|
As illustrated in Graph 1, the financial crisis created a structural break in the level and pace of financial globalisation. In 2007, international financial flows peaked at more than 50% of world GDP, but then global cross-border flows fell significantly in 2008 and after some recovery levelled out at around 15% of world GDP (slightly above the average for the 1990s).
G7 versus BRICS
This global average, however, does not in itself reflect different experiences in the Global North and Global South. So, let’s take on one side the advanced economies gathered in the G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, US) representing the Global North and, on the other, emerging economies labelled as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), as a Global South sample, and regard their own experiences to move beyond the aggregate picture that might not reveal differences in the extent of deglobalisation. Graph 2, like Graph 1, shows cross-border financial flows, but rather than focusing on global GDP displays the regional GDPs for the Global North (G7) and the Global South (BRICS).
|Graph 2: Different experiences in G7 and BRICS (cross-border financial flows as a share of regional GDPs)|
|Source: own elaboration based on IFS and WEO databases (2018) (see IMF data)|
The graph clearly shows that the G7 grouping reached a financial peak in 2007, followed by a sharp decline in 2008/09 and poor recovery following the crisis. The graph, however, paints a very different picture for the BRICS economies. A number of factors are noteworthy in determining whether financial globalisation is also taking place in the BRICS grouping. First, the decrease in financial flows after the crisis, although important, is not as significant for the BRICS as for G7 countries. While the decline of the advanced economies was about 40 percentage points during 2008/09, amongst the BRICS economies the fall was only about 8 percentage points.
Second, in the BRICS grouping the financial flows recovery (both in level and in terms of speed) was quite remarkable. As a consequence, in 2010 the BRICS had recovered to a level well above the level in the 1990s, while the share of the G7 countries remained around 30 percentage points below the pre-crisis peak. These figures clearly show that nowadays the BRICS countries hold a similar share of financial integration (relative to their own GDPs) as the G7 countries(!). A third point worth mentioning is that BRICS’s financial flows, while insignificant in the 1990s and early 2000s, increased, on average, to about 2% of world GDP following the crisis (2010-2016). Again, this means that the gap between advanced and emerging economies is shrinking.
How global is financial deglobalisation?
The key issue is whether these dissimilarities would disqualify the labelling of the financial slowdown after the crisis as deglobalisation that after all is understood to be a widespread phenomenon. While G7 countries can’t recover financial momentum, the BRICS’s financial decline was neither sharp nor sustained. In short, there does not (yet) seem to be enough evidence to call it a collapse justifying the deglobalisation denomination.
The McKinsey Global Institute also points out here to other differences between advanced and developing countries. They argue that while cross-border capital flows for the whole world remain 60% below their peak finance momentum, in developing countries capital flows have rebounded. By estimating shares in constant terms, different than the current ones I showed, MGI arrived at the same conclusion. In addition, they emphasise the increase in South-South financial flows linked to foreign direct investment (FDI).
In the same vein the BIS argues here that even in the advanced economies, deglobalisation is restricted only to European countries. If focusing only on banking flows, consolidated by bank nationality—and not by bank location as the IMF usually presents—a broad-based deglobalisation trend is not evident. Rather, we are witnessing a European financial retreat.
Resetting financial globalisation
What is this diverse financial flows behaviour telling us? According to Mallaby, after the crisis financial flows show a “healthy correction”, defining the years leading up to the financial peak as an “aberration”. Accepting the “healthy correction” hypothesis would lead us to pose an alternative characterisation to the deglobalisation of financial markets. In this sense, words like “retreat”, “retrenchment” and even or “reverse” would be more appropriate for depicting the phenomenon. Moreover, can we say that post-crisis financial globalisation is healthier than the one registered before the crisis? Maybe it is not about lower shares, but better ones, leading to sounder financial markets where the financial globalisation reach is set by policymakers and regulators and not by an indomitable financial speculation, heading, as usual, to a crisis.
Whether is the rising regulation, the macro-prudential policies or just plain and simple risk aversion after the aberration (or a mix of all of them), financial globalisation’s newest phase looks, in general, the least volatile phase that might be least prone to crisis. However, is this new shape of globalisation good news? As usual, it depends. The Global North cannot afford to cause another boom-and-bust cycle whose impacts and costs are, indeed, globalised while their benefits are not. On the other hand, Global South recovery is not necessarily good news either. It is not clear that financial flows linked to ODA, debt, remittances or even FDI alone can drive economic growth or development.
Hence, cautionary measures should be taken (or reinforced) by governments to allocate foreign capital where is needed and do not validate unregulated financial speculation, especially the one triggered from the Global North. Despite their heterogeneity and criticism, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) might be a good starting point regarding what is required to finance with foreign capital and what it’s not. Additionally, countries of the Global South must stand up and speak out, jointly, in international fora, warning about the dangers of financial aberrations. This should be presented as a global problem (even when it originated in the Global North) rather than a regional phenomenon or as a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, which it may not be.
Will the 21st Century be a deglobalised century, or are we just witnessing a new (and maybe better) face of financial globalisation? Only time and, hopefully, financial markets regulators, will tell.