Organizations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) maintain detailed records on a diverse set of statistics, including unemployment, life expectancy, inflation and literacy. But gross domestic product (GDP) seems to fascinate people the most, possibly because it offers a sort of report card on the health of a country's economy without getting too deep into the weeds of the ins and outs of how economies work.
The Largest Increases in GDP Growth
The IMF has tracked year-on-year changes to GDP since 1980 as part of its World Economic Outlook database project. While obtaining entirely reliable figures on growth is difficult, having three decades worth of information helps point to economies that have experienced explosive growth. The largest increases in GDP growth since 1980, according to the IMF, are as follows:
- Equatorial Guinea (1997): 150%
- Equatorial Guinea (1996): 67%
- Equatorial Guinea (2001): 63%
- Sudan (1997): 62%
- Kuwait (1992): 51%
Of this list, only Equatorial Guinea's growth can be linked to aspects of traditional economic growth: discovery of natural resources, increased privatization and improved labor productivity. The country experienced rapid growth as it took advantage of its natural gas and oil fields, which allowed the country to rapidly increase exports. It also benefited from being one of the larger producers of cacao. In some ways, the growth in Equatorial Guinea is not dissimilar from that of China in that it was taking advantage of an abundance of "low-hanging fruit," meaning unproductive labor and untapped resources.
The Largest Decreases in GDP Growth
Then there's the other end of the growth spectrum. The largest decreases in GDP growth since 1980, according to the IMF, are as follows:
- Kiribati (1980): -44%
- Lebanon (1989): -42%
- Rwanda (1994): -42%
- Kuwait (1991): -41%
- Lebanon (1982): -37%
Like a boxer knocked down by a vicious right hook, many countries are able to bounce back within a short time frame. Unlike pugilists, however, a return to GDP growth isn't necessarily a result of prowess or skill as much as a return to normalcy. After all, GDP growth is just percent change. Determining if GDP growth is a one-off occurrence or part of a longer trend can remove some of the "noise" associated with events that may only affect a country for a single year. The following list shows countries that ranked in the top 10 for GDP growth for at least five consecutive years between 1980 and 2010.
- Azerbaijan (2005-2009)
- China (1992-1996)
- Equatorial Guinea (1992-2004)
- Myanmar (2002-2006)
- Oman (1981-1985)
- Qatar (2006-2010)
- Turkmenistan (1999-2005)
The Bottom Line
What will the future hold? The IMF estimates that between 2013 and 2017 the average world GDP growth will be 4.3%. It also estimates that China, Bhutan, Timor-Leste and Iraq will be among the fastest growing economies. For those itching to place buy orders, remember that predictions have a nasty habit of falling short.
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