With the global economy bouncing back slowly but surely from the recession, some of the world's top emerging economies are seizing the opportunity to shine.
China, the world's most successful emerging market since the dawn of the millennium, just surpassed the U.S. as the globe's largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity. Meanwhile, India, Brazil, and Russia have all captured spots among the globe's 10 largest economies, catapulted to the top by growing middle classes, urbanization, and large populations. But Russia's and Brazil's economies in particular have slowed down recently, and even China has felt pressure from a swelling housing bubble and slowing foreign investment.
So just which countries are taking up the mantle as the world's fastest climbers? Let's take a look at the five fastest-growing countries out of the world's top 80 overall economies -- or those with projected 2014 GDPs over $100 billion, as estimated by the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook on a purchasing power parity basis -- and see whether or not these risers can repeat the kind of success that has boosted the BRICs into international prominence.
5. Nigeria: 9.3% projected 2015 GDP growth
Perhaps no country in Africa has vaulted into the spotlight as recently as Nigeria has.
The West African nation's population has surged, booming by more than 24% between 2005 and 2013 to more than 169 million people. At the same time, Nigeria has capitalized on the growing worldwide demand for energy to emerge as an oil leader: According to OPEC, of which Nigeria is a member, the country boasts more than 37 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. The country has turned its nearly $90 billion in annual petroleum exports into a more than doubling of its GDP between 2005 and 2013.
Yet despite the country's energy wealth, major multinational oil corporations have backed away from Nigeria lately. Both Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-A), among other top energy leaders, have divested oil assets in the resource-rich country recently. Costs for doing business in the country have mounted for top corporations, with oil theft and government intervention chiefly to blame. Shell even estimated that theft and other hurdles in the nation cost the company up to $1 billion in 2013 across its oil and natural-gas operations.
As its energy sector takes a hit, however, Nigeria is hoping to keep up its economic growth through new industries. The country has worked on reforming its telecom, technology, and financial sectors to diversify away from the reliance on oil and gas. Nigeria will need all the growth it can muster, however: The IMF projects the country's population to swell by another 14.5% over the next five years. The combination of falling energy prices and Nigeria's unstable security situation, exacerbated by the rise of terror organization Boko Haram, also present steep hurdles for this emerging regional leader to overcome if it wants to maintain its growth, attract foreign investment, and cement its place among the world's economic leaders in the years to come.
4. Qatar: 9.7% projected 2015 GDP growth
Qatar, the world's richest country by per-capita GDP, has jumped to the top of the globe's rankings behind its own energy boom. The Middle Eastern country of just over 2 million people is powered by its energy sector: Natural gas and oil production makes up nearly 60% of Qatar's GDP, and the country boasts more than 25 billion barrels of proven crude reserves. That natural wealth has greatly enhanced the country's international recognition; Qatar is slated to become the first Arab nation to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Its standard of living is also expected to continue surging.
But falling energy prices have recently threatened traditional oil powers. Qatar's Emir has denied any significant negative impact to the economy as oil has plunged, but the volatility of energy prices means that the country will need to continue diversifying if it wants to lay down a groundwork of economic stability. That plan's well underway: Infrastructure has boomed as international construction companies have flocked to Qatar. The construction industry is estimated to contribute more than 13% of the country's real GDP in 2015, with investment in transportation boosting Qatar's rail and air industries as well.
However, fears of inflation have risen as Qatar's infrastructure has blossomed, and concerns over labor abuses, among other human rights concerns, have threatened the country's image abroad. In order to boost tourism prospects and to attract major multinational companies to invest for the long run, Qatar will need to adjust for such political and social concerns.
3. Ethiopia: 10.5% projected 2015 GDP growth
Qatar and Ethiopia couldn't be more different, high economic growth aside. Thirty years ago, Ethiopia weathered a "biblical famine" that cost the lives of more than 1 million people, and the country's still transitioning into modernity today. Agriculture makes up nearly half of Ethiopia's GDP, according to the CIA World Factbook, and foreign investment has only recently begun to take hold in the African nation.
That investment, however, could be the start of something special. As traditional low-cost manufacturing hubs such as China have seen wages and standards of living rise, companies seeking cheaper labor have sought greener pastures. Ethiopia could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of this shift: China is estimated to lose up to 85 million manufacturing jobs in coming years, and Chinese apparel companies, among other firms, have begun to set up shop in Ethiopia to capitalize on the low wages.
Still, the country has a long way to go before even that boom will truly take hold. Ethiopia's infrastructure is a mess, increasing the costs for foreign companies looking to lay down roots. The region's instability isn't helping the emergence of a stable economy, either, as streams of refugees from neighboring Eritrea have sought refuge in Ethiopia. But considering Ethiopia's current low standards of living and its potential as a low-cost manufacturing giant -- much as China used to be -- there's nowhere to go but up for this economy.
2. Myanmar: 10.5% projected 2015 GDP growth
Myanmar, one of Southeast Asia's poorer nations, has seen its economy pick up steam since a series of economic and political reforms began in 2011. After years of military rule, the slow transition to democracy has attracted foreign investment, which is expected to climb by 25% in both 2014 and 2015, with much of the funds flowing from China and Singapore. As in Ethiopia, low wages are attracting companies that have seen cheap labor dry up in formerly attractive nations like China, and Myanmar is also home to a growing commodity sector, with oil, copper, and other resources still mostly untapped.
Despite that, the country has miles to go to establish a stable economic platform for foreign multinational corporations to stand on. Myanmar's transportation and infrastructure network is in need of major investment, but more than that, the country's nascent transition to democracy needs time. Concerns over the re-establishment of harsh military rule abound, and the nation's legal and bureaucratic framework is nearly nonexistent.
The nation's poverty and low standards of living are conducive to high growth if Myanmar can develop its human rights while building its political and legal foundation, but U.S. foreign investment has been elusive. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, American corporations have invested less than $250 million in Myanmar -- and don't expect that number to rise significantly unless real progress is made.
1. Libya: 17.1% projected 2015 GDP growth
Talk about countries still emerging from the fire. The fastest-growing country among the world's 80 largest economies, Libya, has struggled to emerge from its 2011 civil war and overthrow of former leader Muammar Qaddafi. The energy-dependent nation has since worked to ramp up oil production, but ongoing fighting between armed factions has threatened that plan -- and scared away foreign investment, much of which dried up as foreign energy corporations from Europe to China evacuated the North African nation three years ago.
Now? The IMF's projected growth, and the country's economy as a whole, is in serious danger as Libya backslides toward war. The OPEC member still produces more than 800,000 barrels of oil per day. But armed insurgents have battled for control of major oil fields this year, with attackers briefly taking control of the country's largest field earlier this month. Libya looks years away from political stability, and until then, foreign investment looks scarce at best. The nation's high projected growth is more a testament to its comeback from the 2011 violence, but if Libya breaks out into civil war again, this fragile economy -- and any prospects for foreign energy companies hoping to capitalize on Libya's vast oil resources -- will be in serious trouble.
Is economic growth all that it's cracked up to be?
Surging energy sectors and the rise from long-standing poverty make up the biggest reasons why most of these nations are set for future growth, but with the transition to higher wealth comes risks. Fragile political situations in nations such as Myanmar and Libya make foreign investment a tricky proposition, and loose bureaucratic frameworks make doing business in nations such as these far more difficult to predict for top multinational corporations. Major economies such as the U.S., Europe, and Japan are struggling for growth, but for top businesses, economic stability often trumps growth potential.
Dan Carroll has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Chevron. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.