Timothy AshBy Timothy Ash of Standard Bank

This time last year I was asked to contribute an article for beyondbrics on the outlook for 2014, and I chose Ukraine (see Hello 2014: Ukraine’s crisis may run and run, December 20, 2014). That post turned out to be prescient, although even I could never have imagined the remarkable turn of events in that country this year.

For 2015 I think Ukraine will remain in the headlines, but its future is likely at least partially to be determined by events in its eastern neighbour, Russia. The new reform administration in Kiev can succeed, if Moscow gives it some breathing space and scales back its own direct intervention in Ukraine. Read more

By Mohamed El-Erian

One of the main challenges facing emerging countries in 2015 will be dealing with increased economic and policy “divergence” within the advanced world. It is a challenge that will widen the gap between well- and poorly-managed economies. It is also one that will tax even the best-run economies. In turn, their response will influence the prospects for the advanced world. Read more

It’s a few minutes into Marion Akinyi Onginjo’s social studies lesson at Bridge International Academy Gicagi in Nairobi and the class 4 teacher is being drowned out by loud cheers next door.

Bridge International Academy Gicagi, Nairobi. Photo: Tosin Sulaiman

Class 4 finally gets its chance to make some noise when one student, Margaret, correctly answers a question about subsistence crops. After Onginjo tells the class, “let’s give Margaret the cowboy cheer,” they stand up, spin imaginary lassoes in the girl’s direction and yell, “One, two, three, four, five, yee-hah.” Read more

In the long-running battle between contagion and differentiation in emerging markets, contagion currently has the upper hand. That’s hardly surprising when you look at the size of the shock coming out of Russia and the failure of Monday night’s 650 basis point interest rate rise to deal with it. Nothing on this scale has been seen since 1998.

Rouble per US dollar, year to date. Source: Thomson Reuters

But contagion is not absolute and some EM currencies are bucking this month’s sharp falls, at least for now. Below, we present charts that show how the big EM currencies are faring in these times of extreme stress. Read more

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At the entrance to Shomaa Impressive School, a compound of 11 classrooms built from thin wooden boards in the Lagos slum of Makoko, prospective parents are greeted with a banner showing four children in graduation gowns and the motto “Raising future professionals”. Just as the message is crafted to appeal to the aspirational market traders and fish sellers who send their children to the nursery and primary school, the daily tuition fees averaging less than $1 a day are also tailored to their modest budgets.

Schools like Shomaa, which has around 100 students, are contributing to a boom in private education in Lagos and other cities in Africa.

A pupil at Shomaa Impressive School, Makoko, Lagos. Photo: Tosin Sulaiman

 Read more

By Aleksandar Vucic, Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia

Serbia recently began its accession talks with the EU and is firmly dedicated to its European path. This is a blessing to a country like Serbia, since its geographic position places us at a key strategic juncture between Europe and the Orient – and this role is becoming ever more prominent.

The first character in the Chinese words for Serbia and Serbian is pronounced sai. It translates as ‘place of strategic importance’. As Chinese characters so often do, it offers a remarkably concise and meaningful description of Serbia’s relationship with China and the world more broadly. Read more

This month, the FT interviewed a senior executive at Uber in India about the US taxi-hailing company’s plans for rapid expansion in the country. But later that week, a 25 year-old woman said she had been raped by her Uber driver in New Delhi. The government banned the service from operating in the capital and asked state governments to ban all unregistered web-based taxi services.

Swept away by its bold ambitions, it seems Uber has fallen foul of local circumstances in its rush to recruit new drivers. The company declined to discuss this and related issues followed the alleged rape. But are Indian taxi services any more cautious in selecting their drivers? And assuming Uber gets past the rape case, can it go on to succeed in India? Read more

With only a couple of weeks left in the year, Brazil watches are still revising downward their view on GDP growth for 2014. The central bank’s latest weekly survey of about 100 market economists has GDP growth coming in at a feeble 0.16 per cent this year, down from 0.18 per cent a week ago and 0.21 per cent a month ago. The consensus for 2015 is also sliding: just 0.69 per cent growth is expected in this week’s report, down from 0.73 per cent last week and 0.8 per cent a month ago.

Those looking for a silver lining to this darkening cloud may argue that it reflects a conviction among analysts that Brazil’s new economics team under Joaquim Levy at the finance ministry (pictured above) is serious about reining in the public deficit and that this, while positive in the long term, will dampen growth in the interim. Read more

By Jukka Pihlman of Standard Chartered Bank

The Chinese currency’s path to internationalisation has been stellar so far but something may happen next year that could propel the renminbi (RMB) into the currency stratosphere.

The IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR) – the IMF’s ‘virtual currency’ based on a basket of other currencies reviewed every five years – rarely warrant much excitement. But if the RMB gets included in 2015, alongside the dollar, euro, pound and yen, it could boost the Chinese currency’s fortunes overnight. Read more

The Turkish lira rounded off the week by tumbling to its lowest levels against the dollar for almost a year, amid investor nervousness about
emerging markets.

By evening trade in Istanbul the currency had fallen beyond TL2.30 to the US dollar, more than 1 per cent down on the day and the weakest level since January, when the Turkish central bank moved to increase
interest rates – a dramatic shift in policy that at the time halted a
precipitous drop in its value. Read more

By Alejandro Poiré of Tecnológico de Monterrey

What makes Mexico’s current political turmoil unique is that it has put the problem of corruption front and centre of the social agenda. Streets, schools, homes, corporate offices, union meetings and workplaces are teeming with a mix of anger and concern. There is an underlying feeling that it is corruption that lies at the root of our inability to protect the innocent from murder and abuse; that it is corruption that could derail the future promised by the remarkable reforms of the past few years.

As Mexico’s leading public intellectuals have argued, its current crisis, a crisis of corruption and rule of law, calls into question its very viability as a democracy. Yet its political elites have yet to grasp the depth of the problem. The government’s leadership style has pushed social allies away. Opposition parties, mired in their own decomposition, have not served as a channel for social outrage, and players on all sides of the aisle seem way too eager to look past their lamentable wrongdoings. Read more

** FT News **

* Oil falls further as IEA cuts 2015 forecast | Energy watchdog says rout in prices has not stimulated buying

* China water diversion starts to flow | Controversial $60bn project will irrigate the country’s arid north Read more

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, and Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, met in New Delhi on Thursday for the 15th Annual India-Russia summit. Although normally a low-key event, this year’s meeting was important, coming as both countries rethink their foreign policies. Russia’s isolation from Europe has intensified in recent months. Meanwhile Modi has been working hard to strengthen India’s ties with the rest of the world.

The meeting resulted in renewed promises between the two nations to cooperate on energy sharing, defence deals and the diamond trade. For context, here are three significant facets of the India-Russia relationship. Read more

Appearances – and doing the right thing – are very important in Mexico.

So the head of Pemex, the state oil company, looked rather conspicuous by his absence at the launch of the long-awaited tender terms for Mexico’s historic first bidding round, attended by all the other state heavyweights in the industry and a host of corporate executives. Read more

You don’t have to look far to see the impact on Mexico of falling oil prices (now close to a five-year low): just take a look at the trade balance of state giant Pemex . It slumped by half in one month, to $656m in October from $1.3bn in September, and that was before the combination of Mexico’s lower production and lower world prices really began to bite.

So now would be a good time to take a cold look at how much damage falling prices could really do to Mexico as it prepares to open up its oil sector to private investment, what Mexico could do about it, what wider impact that could have, and what the US and the International Monetary Fund could do to help. Read more