IT WAS the memory of two world wars and numerous other battles to build empires in centuries past that brought European heads of state to believe that combining their economies was most probably the better way of going about their development.
So despite their differences that exist to this day, leaders have held on tight to the belief that they have a much better chance of a peaceful and prosperous future together than apart.
Merging their economic strength would also give them better bargaining power against the US, which at the end of the Second World War was the new global superpower along with Russia.
But despite this shared experience, the European Union is anything but a harmonious marriage. For the 17 nations that share a currency, the dirty laundry has been out there for all of us to see over the past three years.
And there still remains a threat, however small, that the project could one day come to an end with a split between the north (Germany, Denmark) and south (Greece, Italy).
So what is the common thread or experience that binds the nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa together?
Outside the fact that India and South Africa at one point in their history had the British as a colonial master, there’s little common experience that would lead to a marriage between these five nations. Brazil was colonised by the Portuguese.
For this union, we’ll have to thank Jim O’Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, who coined the acronym Bric. I doubt he had any idea that his idea to lump the four countries together into an asset category would trigger the economic union of sorts a decade later.
But now that the nations have been inspired by the acronym and South Africa has managed to get its place at the dinner table, it’s time to see whether we can get anything positive from it.
What we want is for India and China — the consumers of the bunch — to buy more of our goods, and in particular our resources.
I am sure that’s roughly the same type of deal that Brazil, which has iron ore and manganese deposits, and Russia, with its oil, gas and coal reserves, are looking to score from the union as well.
It’s all about who gets the best deal from this union and I am afraid if one of them isn’t quite happy with his lot in the years to come, it may prove near impossible to keep this marriage going.
Unlike in Europe, the ties that bind us together simply aren’t that strong. The sovereign debt crisis in Europe’s common monetary union was triggered by Greece, one of its smaller economies. Cyprus, which represents only 0.2% of the economy, is still causing uncertainty.
Instead of squabbling with its peers in Brics, China may as well summon the entire African continent, minus Botswana, to Beijing for a summit and a week later, Latin American countries.
To cement the Brics family, its membership needs to grow beyond the five and include the likes to Nigeria and other emerging Asian and Latin American countries.
Open the invitation.
STOCKS in emerging markets have underperformed those in the developed world this year as foreign investors start to look more favourably at companies that have much greater exposure to the US. Overlooking the concerns over sequesters, optimism about growth in the world’s biggest economy has remain relatively upbeat.
According to Bloomberg, stocks in markets such as South Africa and Brazil posted the worst first quarter since 2008 and lag behind shares of developed economies by the most in 15 years.
While the JSE all-share index has reached record highs this year, its 1.9% growth has underperformed the FTSE 100’s more than 8% appreciation. The S&P 500 has gained about 9%, and the Dow Jones industrial average has rallied more than 10%.
Brazil’s Bovespa index has lost nearly 10% this year.
While the biggest weighting on the JSE is reserved for multinationals such as British American Tobacco and SABMiller, domestic woes about the economy are now weighing on the market, which has had an excellent run. Slow growth, inflation concerns set against a backdrop of a depreciating currency have set alarm bells ringing in investment houses in New York, London and Cape Town.
US earnings season — the months immediately following the quarter-ends — will confirm or disprove the belief that the only place to find value is offshore and in the developed world. The season begins next month.