Nowadays we don't have to look very far to be convinced that our economy is in great shape. Our iconic stock indexes are regularly hitting new highs, the unemployment rate dipped back to 6.1% in August, tying its lowest mark over the past six years, and consumer spending is on the rise. By all accounts, Americans should be satisfied with the current shape of the U.S. economy.
But, citizens' satisfaction with their own countries' economy around the globe can be quite varied – including the United States where a vast majority of people aren't satisfied with the way things are currently going. In fact, according to a recently released survey from the Pew Research Center, the majority of people around the globe are quite pessimistic about the current economic situation in their respective country.
Overall, people aren't very satisfied
As Pew's 44-country survey showed by a factor of almost two-to-one, residents of advanced nations were likely to be dissatisfied with the current state of their economy. This category includes troubled EU countries like Spain, Italy, and Greece where 93%, 96%, and 97% of respondents, respectively, noted that they were dissatisfied with their country's economy. These nations are grappling with double-digit unemployment rates and still shaky financial foundations, so it's no wonder their citizens are none-too-pleased.
Yet, this dissatisfaction moves beyond just slower-growth advanced nations. Residents in a vast number of emerging market economies are also pessimistic with Pew noting that, on average, 59% of citizens in emerging market countries disapprove of current economic conditions. This includes Mexico, Brazil, and Egypt, where 60%, 67%, and 76% of citizens gave their economy a thumbs-down.
Perhaps the only bright spot of Pew's findings was a handful of developing nations. By a narrow margin – 51% to 47% -- citizens in developing countries tend to be happy with the economic conditions in their country.
Though Pew didn't go into too many specifics as to why a majority people around the globe are dissatisfied, it did note based on data from the International Monetary Fund, that the global growth rate in the first quarter of 2014, right before this poll was conducted, had fallen a full percentage point from the second-half of 2013. Weaker global growth prospects, considering how intertwined many advanced and emerging economies are these days due to trade, are certainly a viable explanation for these disappointing results.
Smiling faces in surprising places
However, it wasn't all glum faces. According to Pew a number of countries saw economic optimism increase; and in some cases by a significant amount.
In total, nine countries saw a double-digit percentage rise in positive year-over-year economic sentiment, although only five of those nine countries garnered enough positive votes of confidence from residents to proclaim that a majority of their citizens had a positive economic outlook. For example, the U.K. saw its economic approval rating increase from 15% in 2013 to 43% in 2014, the largest year-over-year increase of the 44 countries. But, a majority of its citizens still remain negative (55%) overall.
Today, we'll briefly take a look at these five majority optimistic countries and attempt to discover why citizens have had such a dramatic change of opinion. Remember, the well-being of these countries could ultimately have a bearing on your investments.
1. Uganda: 2013 approval: 44% / 2014: approval: 62%
"Why are Ugandans so excited about their economic prospects?" you wonder? I suspect the prime reason has to do with a recent price surge in its largest export, coffee. Keep in mind that Pew's survey was conducted in the spring, and through the first six months of 2014 coffee price increased from $1.20 per pound to approximately $2 per pound. This jump can potentially put a lot of extra money in the pockets of Ugandan farmers, which can ultimately trickle down through its economy.
I'd also suggest that Uganda's plan to begin commercial oil operations in 2017 has some of its citizens excited for the future. Oil is a high-demand resource that could lead to a sizable jump in national wealth and notable infrastructure improvements within the country.
2. Israel: 2013 approval: 43% / 2014 approval: 59%
Israel is an interesting case because conflict in the region has been hurting its tourism industry, which accounts for about 7% of the nation's GDP. In fact, year-over-year GDP growth in the country has slumped from nearly 6% to just over 1% between 2010 and 2014.
However, Israel's Monetary Committee (i.e., Israel's central bank) has been aggressively cutting the country's main lending rate. Just last month it chopped another 25 basis points off its already record-low lending rates to just 0.25%. Couple this microscopic lending rate with inflation that's actually been running well below target and you have a monetary recipe for lending and borrowing to explode.
In addition, as the Economist notes, improved natural gas production as well as "buoyant foreign investment" in the country via technology takeovers has boosted confidence in the Israeli economy as a whole.
3. Indonesia: 2013 approval: 37% / 2014 approval: 53%
Though Indonesia is more advanced in terms of economic and physical infrastructure than Uganda, the two share a major similarity in that exports seem to be the driving force behind their surge in citizens' economic optimism. More than half of Indonesia's GDP is derived from exports, with coal topping the list. Though coal prices have been weak for years, thermal coal prices did rally from around $57 per short ton to as high as $64 per short ton when Pew's survey was undertaken. Seeing its largest export, as well as a few other key commodities, increase in value has certainly given hope to Indonesian citizens that its country's growth can continue.
However, as a caveat, I would point out that commodity prices haven't been very strong since the Pew study ended. Thermal coal prices are back below $60 per short ton, and a number of other petroleum and gas prices have fallen. When investors factor in sizable budget deficits as well, it's possible that Indonesia's economy could struggle, especially if it stops running a trade surplus.
4. Chile: 2013 approval: 58% / 2014 approval: 69%
Whereas Uganda and Indonesia share similarities, Chile is more closely linked to Israel in that monetary policy appears to be shaping the bullishness of its people.
Recently Chile's growth rate has slowed, which might come as a bit of a shock considering that its citizens are more positive on the economy than at this time last year. But Chile's central bank has been aggressively cutting its lending rates. Just this past week Chile's central bank reduced its lending rate for the seventh time since October, knocking it down to 3.25% and potentially signaling that future rate cuts may be warranted. Lowering lending rates should help encourage borrowing and lending and may lead a turnaround in Chile's economic growth.
Also, as Reuters points out, Chile's unemployment rate remains relatively low (which is always an encouraging sign for its citizens), and in spite of high levels of inflation, wages within the country have been rising at a brisk pace. In other words, people are working, getting paid more, and can borrow at more attractive rates, which sounds like a good recipe for success.
5. Germany: 2013 approval: 75% / 2014 approval: 85%
Lastly, I doubt Germany needs much introduction as it's the cornerstone country that holds the EU together. Germany's economic stability is apparent through its economic approval rating of 85%, the third-highest rating of the 44 countries surveyed.
Even though Germany witnessed its second-quarter GDP contract, a lot of that has to do with warmer winter weather pushing manufacturing and factory orders into the first-quarter, which is right around the time Pew conducted its survey. In short, Germany's orders looked as if they shot higher in Q1, but it was really just the weather playing tricks. Yet, it may have been enough to get the country a large boost based on Pew's findings.
All told, Germany has one of the most stable and diverse economies on the planet, but tensions between Russia and Ukraine, as well as a volatile euro, still have the ability to cause some degree of economic indigestion for it and its citizens.
Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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