While the collapsing U.S. housing market may be at the root of the global economic recession, the downturn's effects are being felt hardest overseas. Take Iceland, for instance. Its biggest banks failed, its economy may shrink 10 percent this year, its government fell, its central banker was sacked, the country was bailed out with a $2.1 billion IMF loan, and 7,000 people (in a country of 300,000) took to the streets in protest.
Which countries have the greatest chances of being the next stories of failure? U.S.News looked at some countries that are currently facing severe economic disruption that endangers their standards of living, attractiveness to foreign investors, and political stability. First, we examined what Moody's Investors Service and Standard & Poor's had to say about them. These firms rate the risk of sovereign bonds, securities that finance the debt of a country. Many of the countries we identified have poor bond ratings or ratings under review for a downgrade, showing that these governments are perceived as being at greater risk of defaulting on their debt.
Second, we looked at what global markets think about a country's debt, based on data from Markit. The financial information company provides daily pricing on credit-default swaps, contracts between two parties that provide a kind of insurance on corporate and government debt. Analysis was also supplied by credit-rating organization AM Best. It ranks countries into five tiers based on the risk to insurers posed by the countries' economic, political, and financial systems. Using these analyses, here are five countries in deep trouble and five worth keeping an eye on.
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Five Countries in Deep Trouble
Mexico. Thousands of would-be tourists from America and elsewhere had to cancel spring break trips to Mexico due to ongoing violence related to the drug trade. Mexico was the second country recently identified by the U.S. Joint Forces Command as possibly poised for a "rapid and sudden" collapse. Mexico's "politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels," says the report.
The violence and tourism decline could not come at a worse time. Economists predict a 3.3 percent contraction of the Mexican economy this year. The poor economic growth means that the government is getting strapped for funds. In April, it asked the International Monetary Fund for a $47 billion loan. While credit-rating agencies don't expect Mexico's debt to grow riskier soon, and the risk of its sovereign derivatives has not skyrocketed like some other countries on this list, serious problems still remain for the Mexican economy. The country depends on the United States to consume its exports and pay Mexican immigrants who send money back home. If the U.S. recession deepens, Mexicans will feel the pain as much as Americans.
Pakistan. The country has already almost gone bankrupt once in the past six months. In October, only an emergency $10 billion in support from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and others prevented Pakistan from defaulting on its debt. During that crisis, the cost of insurance on Pakistan's debt exploded. Even though the situation has calmed since then, investors are not getting comfortable with Pakistan. It still costs $2.2 million a year to insure $10 million of Pakistan's sovereign bonds.
The economic situation isn't all bad. The Asia Development Bank recently predicted that Pakistan's economy will grow 4 percent in the next fiscal year beginning in July, compared to 2.5 percent growth estimated this year. But the wild card that could change everything is the country's political situation. Pakistan is one of the most unstable countries in the world. On April 13, White House counterterrorism consultant David Kilcullen said that a political collapse in Pakistan could come within months. A 2008 report from the U.S. Joint Forces Command identified Pakistan as a country at risk of a "rapid and sudden collapse," one that would create a devastating security problem for the world. The report says that "the collapse of a state usually comes as a surprise." Anyone banking their money on Pakistan's economic growth might not know what hit them.