Indeed, judged by the criteria of 2013, emerging markets today look far less fragile than they once were. Inflation is lower (only 1.4% in Indonesia) and "exchange-rate valuations have cheapened up considerably", says Mr Lord. Their current accounts are also "much improved". Indonesia's is now in surplus, as are India's and South Africa's.
These past indicators of fragility, however, may not be appropriate for 2021. The pandemic has depressed demand and curtailed imports, which has temporarily narrowed current-account deficits around the world. But the fight against covid-19 has also dramatically widened another kind of deficit: the gap between government spending and revenues. Budget deficits averaged over 10% of GDP across the fragile five last year, according to the IMF. Fiscal sustainability "has become the key macro area of concern for some emerging markets", Mr Lord says.
Bond strategists at HSBC, a bank, published an alternative ranking of vulnerable emerging economies on March 2nd. The least resilient, according to their scorecard, are Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa. These economies have all been prone to current-account deficits in recent years, even if the pandemic has flattered the latest figures. And sizeable government debt in South Africa and especially Brazil leaves them exposed to any jump in interest rates, which are now unusually low.
The fairweather four
These are not the only potential sources of vulnerability. When American yields rise and the dollar strengthens, countries that have borrowed heavily in hard currencies find their debts harder to bear. But the trouble need not end there, according to Valentina Bruno of the American University in Washington, DC, and Hyun Song Shin of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). Any deterioration in the creditworthiness of one borrower in an international lender's portfolio can limit the risks it is willing to take on other emerging markets, even those that mostly borrow in their own currency. Boris Hofmann and Taejin Park of the BIS have shown that a rising dollar is a particular danger to emerging markets that have sold a large share of their bonds to foreigners. One reason why Mexico is on HSBC's worry list and Turkey is not is that foreigners hold 46% of Mexico's local-currency government bonds and less than 7% of Turkey's.
These findings create a headache for conscientious finance ministers in emerging markets. If they strive to reform their economies to make them less fragile, they will become more attractive to foreign investors, who will then snap up a greater share of their bonds. But that could make them more vulnerable to a sell-off whenever global financial conditions darken. Indonesia's reforms after the taper tantrum soon won praise from the IMF and attracted foreign buyers back to its bond market. But, Mr Basri admits, these inflows increased the vulnerability of Indonesia's economy to a reversal when global markets wobbled again in 2015. Emerging economies are not powerless victims of the Fed. But they can be hapless victims of their own success.