Are Jim O’Neil’s BRIC predictions turning out to be true? Analytical study to compare Jim O’Neil’s prediction on macroeconomic indicators with the actuals from the last 15 years.

A MBA student tests Jim O’Neil’s 2003 predictions about the growth of BRIC economies and concludes O’Neil was too conservative.

Jivesh Govil

by Jivesh Govil, MBA ’15

Jim O’Neil, retiring chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management UK, coined the term BRIC—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—in his landmark study published in 2003. His predictions and analyses have been widely studied by economists for his bold claims that BRIC economies will surpass G6 economies in next 40 years. To arrive at these predictions on GDP growth, income per capita, and currency movements in BRIC until 2050, Jim and his co-authors referenced three inputs: demographic projections, model of capital accumulation, model of productivity growth.

O’Neil stated that these developing BRIC economies have potential to post higher growth than the developed world for two reasons. The first is that developing economies have less capital (per worker) than developed economies and are far away from steady state rates. Returns on capital are higher and a given investment rate results in higher growth in the capital stock. The second is that developing countries may be able to use technologies available in more developed countries to ‘catch up’ with developed country techniques. As a result of these two, BRIC countries would also grow richer on the back of appreciating currencies. Currencies tend to rise as higher productivity leads economies to converge on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) exchange rates.

Before we compare the predictions to actual data for last 15 years, we must understand the key assumption that O’Neil stated in his work. According to him, BRIC economies do not need “miracle performance” to meet the projections, but they must maintain policies and develop institutions that are supportive of growth. To analyze the accuracy of the predictions, I have collected actuals on GDP and GDP per capita for BRIC and G6 nations (US, UK, France, Japan, Italy, Germany) from trading economics. The actuals information may differ slightly from one source to another; however, the objective here is to infer the results directionally.

Observation 1: From the figure below comparing the GDP of BRIC with that of G6 economies against Jim O’Neil’s prediction, we find that the actuals are exceeding  the predictions especially  in more recent years. Hence, Jim’s prediction is actually more conservative than being aggressive. It may be possible that the predictions may turn out to be a reality much earlier.

Observation 2: Next I tried to compare the actuals to the predictions separately for BRIC and G6, in addition to finding the difference between the two. Inferring from the two outputs presented in the figure below, we find that BRICs GDP growth has again far outpaced Jim’s predictions. In other words, the ratio of GDP actuals to predictions for G6 economies is reaching around 1.2 while that for BRIC economies is stabilizing around 2. Further, the difference between GDPs of G6 and BRIC has been decreasing at accelerated pace since 2011. This may be due to the fact that while G6 economies are mired in economic recession, BRIC has robustly increased their economies. Together these facts imply that, GDP growth in BRIC is more more accelerated than Jim predicted. These evidences further corrobrorate the observation 1 that BRIC may outpace G6 faster than predicted.

Observation 3: Within the four BRIC economies, the GDP growth for China and Brazil is moving towards 2X times of the predictions while that for India and Russia are moving towards 1.5X times of the predictions. Again, it does seem that O’Neil’s prediction were either conservative or that he truly based his predictions on the assumption that these countries do hardly anything to change existing policies. If these countries start adopting better macroeconomic policies such as openness to FDI and greater education standards, then the GDP growth can be much faster as we are seeing over here.

Observation 4:  On average the GDP per capita that O’Neil predicted for BRIC economies are fairly consistent. Although the figure below shows some differences between predictions and actuals, the fluctuations as well as constant differences if accounted for show stability and minimal aberrations to predictions. Hence, the GDP per capita projections that Jim provided are marvelously close within acceptable tolerance level.

Overall, the analysis indicates that O’Neil’s prediction that BRIC economies will surpass G6 economies in the next 40 years does not look doubtful at all, purely on the basis of actuals for last 15 years. Further, the data suggest that this takeover by BRIC may happen earlier than predicted. If the BRICs truly imbibe macroeconomic stability, build institutional efficiency, create openness for trade and FDI, and inculcate more years of schooling for the population, then without any doubt that the BRICs would surpass G6 economies 5-10 years earlier than originally predicted.