Ruchir Sharma is an investor, and has written widely on global economics and politics. As Chief Global Strategist and head of the Emerging Markets Equity team at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, he manages over $25 billion in assets under management. A longtime columnist for newspapers and magazines around the world, Sharma is the author of The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in a Post-Crisis World (Norton/Allen Lane, June 2016) and Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles (Norton/Allen Lane, April 2012).
Sharma has told interviewers he spent his early school years in Mumbai, Delhi, and Singapore. He did his undergraduate studies at the Shri Ram College of Commerce in New Delhi, and afterward joined a securities trading company, and in 1991 he launched a column called For Ex, first for The Observer, later for The Economic Times of India. His writings attracted the attention of Morgan Stanley, which hired him in its Mumbai office in 1996. In 2002 he moved to the New York office, which remains his base today. In 2003 he became cohead of the emerging markets team at Morgan Stanley Investment Management. In 2006 he became head of the team.
Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the next Economic Miracles is a 2012 book written by Sharma. The book discusses his views on Emerging Markets and his travel through these countries. Sales of the book has broken records and has become an international best seller. Breakout Nations has received extensive global media coverage, including The Economist, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.
In Breakout Nations, Sharma writes that he travels in emerging markets for roughly one week out of every month, in order to understand what is happening in the economy up close. He used those travels as the basis for his monthly columns in The Economic Times, and later became a regular columnist for Newsweek International, as well a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and other global publications. More recently, Sharma’s articles and columns have appeared in Foreign Affairs, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Time, Foreign Policy, Forbes, The Bloomberg View, and other publications.
Sharma has argued in his book and articles that the rise of emerging nations as a group is a “myth” that came to seize the global imagination in the unprecedented boom of the 2000s, when emerging nations actually did grow as a group. Typically, when an emerging economy gets hot, it will grow fast for a decade, maybe two, then backslide when its leaders grow complacent. The result is that most emerging nations remain emerging nations and very few (including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore) have grown fast enough for long enough to emerge into the ranks of developed nations. One of Sharma’s fundamental messages is that analysts need to study nations as individual cases, not as part of faceless groupings, in order to understand which ones have a chance to excel. Sharma refers to those with the brightest prospects as “Breakout Nations,” which he defines as an economy that can sustain faster growth than peers in the same per capita income category for the foreseeable future, which he considers no more than five to ten years. Sharma has been a sharp critic of forecasters who attempt to make predictions for the coming century.
This nation-focused approach underpins Sharma’s skeptical view of the hype surrounding the “BRIC” nations, the catch-all acronym for the big emerging markets, Brazil, Russia, India and China. In a cover story for the November/December 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs, “Broken BRICs, Why the Rest Stopped Rising’, Sharma argued that if you look at the individual storylines in these nations, each faces serious challenges to sustaining rapid growth. For example, China has reached a stage in development, with a per capita income of around $6,000, at which the growth of even the most successful economies in history (including Japan, Korea and Taiwan) began to slow markedly. And as China slows, nations like Brazil and Russia that thrived mainly by selling raw materials to China will slow as well. Many commentators have juxtaposed Sharma’s view against that of Goldman Sachs' economist Jim O’Neill, who coined the term “BRIC” to capture the hot economies of the future.
As early as 2010, Sharma was arguing that China is “running out of growth drivers.” He contends that China has little scope left to expand the heavy investment that has driven the double digit growth of recent years, a declining pool of surplus rural labor leading to rising factory wages, and the basic challenge of growing fast from a high-income base all conspiring to slow growth – gradually, not catastrophically—in the future.
In early 2012, Sharma argued in an oped for the New York Times that while the China bulls are too optimistic about its ability to sustain 8 percent growth indefinitely, the bears are too quick to forecast disaster. The greater likelihood is that China “is slowing to a rate that is ideal for the interests of the United States: fast enough to remain an important pillar of global economic growth, but not fast enough for China to remain a disruptive threat to American power.
More recently, Sharma has focused on China’s “own debt bomb,” writing that the money supply and private debts are growing dangerously fast. Sharma notes that, according to studies by the International Monetary Fund and the Bank for International Settlements, such rapid accumulation of debt normally presages a major crisis or, more likely he argues in China’s case, a sharp deceleration in growth.
Sharma has been a sharp critic of those who argued, in the last decade, that increasing demand from China would lead to a commodity supercycle—a rise in prices for commodities such as oil, lasting indefinitely. He contends that the inevitable slowdown of China, as its economy matures, would restore the normal global commodity cycle, in which prices rise for a decade and fall for two decades.
He applauds this likely turn, arguing that rising prices for commodities, particularly oil, led to the rise of “bad billionaires” who make money by “digging stuff out of the ground,” at the expense of “good billionaires”, who work in productive industries like technology.
Recently he has written that the “China-commodity connection” is breaking, and that the retreat of commodity prices will undercut commodity economies that thrived in the last decade based on spiking prices. Those include Russia, Brazil and “nasty petro states”, and their retreat will greatly help commodity importers such as the United States. He says that, if anything, Americans underestimate the negative impact of high oil prices, noting that a sharp increase in oil prices has laid the stage for virtually every postwar recession.
Sharma, who has argued that other nations like South Korea are spending too little on welfare given their income level, says that Brazil is spending too much. He argues that in focusing investment on welfare rather than infrastructure, Brazil has created an economy with too little capacity—too few roads, schools—which means that when the economy starts to grow fast, demand for these facilities quickly outstrips supply, triggering inflation at a relatively slow rate of growth of only 4 percent. Sharma’s May/June 2012 article in “Foreign Affairs,” “Bearish on Brazil,” provoked a number of critical responses arguing that he had either failed to appreciate how much Brazil had done to encourage the rise of the middle class within a democratic system, or had failed to criticize the shortfalls in Brazil’s economic reform efforts harshly enough. Sharma responded that the bottom line is weak growth compared to the competition: Brazil’s long-term growth rate has averaged just 2.5 percent, well below emerging nations in its per capita income class, including Turkey and Russia.
Sharma is best known in his home country, India, where “Breakout Nations” broke sales records for a serious non-fiction book and provoked widespread discussion over his view that India has at best a 50-50 chance to be a Breakout Nation. Sharma has argued for some time that India’s growth shows a clear pattern, rising and falling with the tides of the global economy, even when its leaders take personal credit for the periods of strong growth. He has argued that India needs to develop a stronger, more sustained will to reform, as East Asian success stories have in the past.
Recently, Sharma made the case that India is starting to evolve along a federal model, similar to the European Union, with each state pursuing its own economic strategy, and those states with competent leaders growing much faster than others do. Sharma contends that this federal structure fits the diverse “natural fabric” of India, and should be encouraged by the national leadership.
Sharma has argued that his view of the BRICS should not be misconstrued as a negative view of emerging markets as a whole, just recognition of the historic reality. Over time, it is very unusual for all the emerging markets to boom at once, the way they did between 2000 and 2010.
In 2012 Foreign Policy magazine cited Sharma as one of its top 100 Global Thinkers “for dusting the gold off the term ‘emerging markets’, and refocusing the global discussion on “the real breakout nations to watch.” In an accompanying article, Sharma described seven of his top candidates, including the Philippines, Turkey, Indonesia, Thailand, Poland, Sri Lanka and Nigeria. FT emerging markets editor Stefan Wagstyl wrote that emerging market investors are bullish by definition, otherwise they would be investing elsewhere, and found it “refreshing” to read an emerging markets book that was “mercifully light on blue sky predictions” and “that has little truck with the relentless Bric-led rising of the emerging world.”
Sharma emphasizes in Breakout Nations that success has to be defined in relative terms. As the global economy slows, money and satisfaction will flow to nations that grow faster than peers, even if their own growth rate is slower than it was during the boom of the last decade. Analysts need to compare nations against rivals in the same per capita income class, because the challenges of growth change rapidly as a nation gets richer. So India should be compared to rivals in the class of emerging nations with average per capita income below $2500, Brazil should be compared to those with per capita incomes between $10,000 and $15,000, and so on.
In 2012, Sharma began applying this basic framework to analyzing the position of the United States, and concluded that – despite the growing camp of American declinists—the United States is in position to be a “Comeback Nation.” He cites five key factors, all related to the superior flexibility of the US system, compared to its peers. The US is paying down its private debts faster than European rivals or Japan. The dollar is at its most competitive level in three decades (in real terms). The US remains the hub of technological innovation. The revolution in US shale oil and gas is greatly lowering energy costs. All these factors are helping to spur a US renaissance in manufacturing, putting the US in position to be the “breakout nation of the developed world,” if it can address its Achilles heel: rising government debt.
Breakout Nations debuted as the No 1 bestseller in India, and earned Sharma the Tata Literature Live! First Book Award for 2012.
Breakout Nations made the Wall Street Journal hardcover business bestseller list, and was chosen by Foreign Policy as one of its “21 Books to Read in 2012”.
Sharma has told interviewers his passions are politics and sprinting. Since 1998, he has been leading a group of some 20 top Indian journalists on a road trip, following Indian general elections and key state assembly elections and interviewing top Indian politicians on background.
Sharma says he tries to train as a sprinter 6 days a week, whether traveling or not. In 2011, he ran in the 100-meter and 4 x 100 relay events, representing India at the World Masters, an international competition for athletes over the age of 35, in Sacramento, Calif. He is single and lives in New York City.