Covid-19 depleted foreign reserves of most emerging economies

The majority of developing economies had less foreign exchange reserves at the end of 2022 than they did at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to fDi Markets analysis of central bank data from 75 countries collected via Haver Analytics.

Import cover ratios — a standard comparable measure of foreign exchange reserves — fell by 25 per cent or more at 39 of the countries.

Bolivia saw the sharpest decline in its forex reserves. It was followed by Sri Lanka, Lebanon and Pakistan, which all saw a decline of at least 75 per cent since March 2020. In the Kyrgyz Republic, the decline in forex reserves is partially caused by the fall in remittances from Russia.

The depletion of reserves limited the ability of these countries to finance their fiscal deficits and imports of food, fuel and other essential goods.

While in Ecuador and Côte d’Ivoire the rise started from a very a low base, the IMF found that a current account surplus, public sector borrowing and resilient FDI had an impact, as well as higher oil prices which helped boost the export earnings in US dollars.

Alex Irwin-Hunt

Our other charts of the week . . . 

UK films make up a declining share of the international box office: only 17 per cent in 2022, down from 29 per cent in 2019, according to data from the British Film Institute.

The UK’s market share has fallen across all regions, more than halving in Asia.

Most of the highest grossing UK films were backed by US production companies. The only independent film to make it into the top 10 was Belfast, which made $35mn at the worldwide box office. Independent UK films represented only 1.4 per cent of the global market in 2022, half the proportion in 2019.

A record £6.27bn was invested by film and high-end television production during 2022, but less than a third was contributed by the film industry and spend on independent UK films slowed 31 per cent on the previous year.

Amy Borrett

US libraries last year faced the highest number of demands to censor books, in more than two decades, according to the American Library Association.

The vast majority of the titles targeted were by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community or people of colour.

A record, 2,571 titles were targeted. School libraries were the focus of 58 per cent of the challenges, while 41 per cent related to material in public libraries.

The ALA said the rise was being driven by organised censorship groups who circulated long lists of books they opposed on social media.

Oliver Roeder

Rising labour activism in the US in recent years has given unions a boost in bargaining power, leading to the biggest pay rises for employees since 1990.

Analysis by The Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that workers with union representation enjoy a significant pay premium compared to non-union workers, who on average earn 85 per cent of what union members earn.

These recent wins at the bargaining table are a reflection of increased worker militancy, linked to historically high inflation and a tight labour market. The US last year experience the greatest number of strikes in nearly 20 years, with at least 222,306 workers involved in stoppages.

Federica Cocco

Around 41mn Americans receive food stamps, as part of the US government’s Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, up 15.4 per cent since 2019, but still below the peak of 47.6mn in 2013.

But since the emergency food assistance that Congress enacted early in the Covid-19 pandemic ended on March 1, they have lost up to $250 each month to spend on groceries — just as inflation drives food prices higher

According to a study by the non-partisan Urban Institute, food benefits lowered US child poverty by around 14 per cent and kept more than 4mn people above the poverty line.

Federica Cocco

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