Back in 2014, when the idea of the “Mints” was first popularised, the acronym looked like a clever way to entice international capital. Emerging market investors were familiar with the “Brics” of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The Mint nations of Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey shared many of the characteristics that had first excited interest in the Brics: rapid economic growth, big populations and large emerging middle classes.
Sceptics pointed out there were significant differences between the Mints. Mexico and Turkey, with per capita GDP of over $10,000 this year according to the World Bank, are significantly richer than Indonesia and Nigeria, where the figure is less than $4,000. Nonetheless, the central proposition — that the Mints were significant markets with exciting potential — was broadly credible two years ago.
This year, however, the Mints look less enticing and the common characteristics that link them look more like problems than opportunities. Mexico, Indonesia and Nigeria are all significant oil producers in an era of low oil prices.
Political violence and instability are also making headlines in all the Mints. Nigeria, Turkey and Indonesia have struggled with Islamist terror attacks. Mexico has also suffered from violence, but connected to drugs rather than terrorism. The political leadership of the nations has also come in for criticism.
There is, however, a serious difference in the scale of the problems involved. Indonesians were shocked at the start of the year by an Isis jihadi attack in Jakarta that claimed eight lives, including four suspected attackers. But Turkey, which is suffering from the backwash of the Syrian civil war, has a more severe terrorism problem. Since June 2015, there have been 15 major attacks across the country — blamed both on Isis militants and on Kurdish groups — that have killed more than 330 people. Some have hit high-profile sites, such as an attack on Istanbul airport in June.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram is thought to have claimed more than 400 lives in 2016 through warfare and terror attacks. Nearly 250,000 children are thought to be suffering from malnourishment in areas where Boko Haram has disrupted trade.
Meanwhile, the homicide rate in Mexico’s drugs wars has also increased this year and is thought to be running at more than 50 deaths a day. These kinds of statistics have eaten away at the public standing of President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, who has introduced important reforms to the electricity and oil sectors but has gained little lasting popularity as a result. His poll ratings have fallen to record lows.
In an ill-judged effort to revive his popularity in August, Mr Peña Nieto staged a meeting with Donald Trump, the US presidential candidate noted for his anti-Mexican rhetoric. The backlash against Trump’s visit led to the resignation of Luis Videgaray, the Mexican finance minister, who was blamed for issuing the invitation. The possibility of a Trump presidency and the crisis it could provoke in Mexican-American relations will overshadow much else in Mexico this year.
Indonesia and Nigeria’s presidents have also been criticised. There are certain similarities between Joko Widodo of Indonesia (known as Jokowi) and Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria. Both came to power with a reputation as clean politicians in corrupt countries. Both have retained their reputations for honesty but have also been accused of being mediocre administrators and timid economic reformers.
The odd man out in this group of Mint presidents is Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. On the surface, he looks like the leader most under threat. This summer, his government narrowly survived a coup attempt in which more than 250 people died. Yet, once the coup had failed, and he had unleashed a ferocious crackdown on his opponents, Mr Erdogan found his political stature enhanced domestically, at least initially. He spoke before adoring crowds in Istanbul and remains an international figure to be reckoned with. Shortly afterwards, Turkish troops intervened in the Syrian civil war.
Yet while all this political drama has attracted global attention for Mr Erdogan and for Turkey, it also presents a picture of instability likely to concern investors. Turkey’s vital tourism industry has been damaged by terrorism and a deterioration in relations with Russia.
By contrast, Indonesia’s troubles with jihadism have not dented the tourist trade and Mexico’s drug-related violence largely happens away from tourist areas. Turkey’s business climate has been hurt by a purge aimed at the “Gulenists”, a powerful Islamist sect with wide commercial interests.
Political instability was never meant to be one of the Mints’ selling points. But it is important to remember the differences in the situations of the four nations. The mild disappointment Indonesians are currently experiencing with Jokowi’s slow pace of reform is completely different from the panic gripping Nigeria as the economy reels from lower oil prices.
Of the Mints, Nigeria is uniquely vulnerable to swings in global energy markets. In recent years, oil revenues have accounted for up to 70 per cent of government income. By contrast, Mexico has diversified and oil now accounts for about 20 per cent of central government revenues.
The Nigerian naira has fallen by almost 37 per cent against the US dollar since the start of 2016, leading to sharp rises in food prices and growing political discontent. The Nigerian economy, growing at 10 per cent in 2010, entered its first recession in 25 years this year.
The economic situation of the other Mints looks much more secure. All are expected to record positive economic growth, with Indonesia notching up 5 per cent, Turkey around 3.4 per cent and Mexico a little over 2 per cent. These kinds of figures can still excite the interests of investors seeking returns in a low-growth world.
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