Four Forces Facing the Global Economy

WEOBy Olivier Blanchard 

(Versions in عربي and Español)

In our April 2015 World Economic Outlook, we forecast global growth to be roughly the same this year than last year, 3.5% versus 3.4%.   This global number reflects an increase in growth in advanced economies, 2.4% versus 1.8%, offset by a decrease in growth in emerging market and developing economies, 4.3% versus 4.6% last year.   In short, to repeat the words used by the IMF Managing Director last week, we see growth as “moderate and uneven”.

Behind these numbers lies an unusually complex set of forces shaping the world economy.  Some, such as the decline in the price of oil and the evolution of exchange rates, are highly visible.  Some, from crisis legacies to lower potential growth, play more of a role behind the scene but are important nevertheless.  Let me briefly review them.

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Growth Dividend from Stabilizing Fiscal Policies

Xavier DebrunBy Xavier Debrun 

(Versions in عربي中文, FrançaisРусский日本語and Español)

Anyone can easily picture an economy where instability, stagnation and runaway government deficits converge into a perfect storm. Yet the simple mirror image of stability, growth, and balanced budgets currently seems odd to many. And with monetary policy looking breathless, some even wonder whether sacrificing fiscal sanity for short-term growth might not be worth a try.

In any economic debate, looking at the data is always a good starting point. And the latest issue of the Fiscal Monitor does exactly that. Our study looks at the experience with fiscal stabilization during the past three decades in a broad sample of 85 advanced, emerging market, and developing economies. The message is loud and clear: governments can use fiscal policy to smooth fluctuations in economic activity, and this can lead to higher medium-term growth. This essentially means governments need to save in good times so that they can use the budget to stabilize output in bad times. In advanced economies, making fiscal policies more stabilizing could cut output volatility by about 15 percent, with a growth dividend of about 0.3 percentage point annually.

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No Puzzle About Weak Business Investment: It’s the Economy!

By Aqib Aslam, Daniel Leigh, and Seok Gil Park

(Versions in عربي中文Français,  日本語Русский, and Español)

The debate continues on why businesses aren’t investing more in machinery, equipment and plants. In advanced economies, business investment—the largest component of private investment—has contracted much more since the global financial crisis than after previous recession. And there are worrying signs that this has eroded long-term economic growth.

Getting the diagnosis right is critical for devising policies to encourage firms to invest more. If low investment is merely a symptom of a weak economic environment, with firms responding to weak sales, then calls for expanding overall economic activity could be justified. If, on the other hand, special impediments are mainly to blame, such as policy uncertainty or financial sector weaknesses, as some suggest, then these must be removed before investment can rise.

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Good Governance Curbs Excessive Bank Risks

By Luis Brandão-Marques, Gaston Gelos, and Erik Oppers 

The global financial crisis reminded us that banks often take risks that are excessive from society’s point of view and can damage the economy. In part, this is the result of the incentives embedded in compensation practices and of inadequate monitoring by stakeholders.  Our analysis found the right policies could reduce banks risky behavior. 

Our findings

In our latest Global Financial Stability Report we take stock of recent developments in executive pay, corporate governance, and bank risk taking, and conduct a novel empirical analysis.

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Aristotle & the Archbishop of Canterbury: Overheard at the IMF’s Annual Meetings

By iMFdirect editors

What a week it’s been.  Practical and existential questions on how to do good and be good for the sake of the global economy and finance dominated the seminars at the IMF’s Annual Meetings in Washington.

Our editors fanned out to cover what the panelists, moderators, and audiences said in a variety of seminars, and two big themes caught our eye.

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It’s Unofficial!

DSC_7906By Sabina Bhatia 

I know it might sound odd, but I actually like the IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings. I know the traffic snarls on Pennsylvania Avenue are terrible, Washington cabbies ruder than ever, lots of men in dark suits (and sadly, they are still mostly men), and there is the constant rush from meeting to meeting.

But beyond the long lines, long hours, cold coffee and the constant buzz of communiqués, press releases, and scores of official meetings, I find my place in the  rich and stimulating discussions among the non-official community.

This year, over 600 civil society organizations, including members of parliament, academics, and several youth and labor groups, came to the meetings. They deliberated, discussed and debated some thorny issues. The burning issues close to their hearts? Not that different from what officials are also debating.  Here is some of what I heard:

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Heat Wave: Rising Financial Risks in the United States

By Serkan Arslanalp, David Jones, and Sanjay Hazarika

Six years after the start of the global financial crisis, low interest rates and other central bank policies in the United States remain critical to encourage economic risk-taking—increased consumption by households, and greater willingness to invest and hire by businesses. However, this prolonged monetary ease also may have encouraged excessive financial risk-taking. Our analysis in the latest Global Financial Stability Report suggests that although economic benefits are becoming more evident, U.S. officials should remain alert to excessive financial risk-taking, particularly in lower-rated corporate debt markets.

Bullish financial risk-taking bears monitoring

Persistently low global interest rates have prompted investors to search for higher returns in a wide range of markets, such as stocks, and investment-grade and high-yield bonds. This has resulted in escalating asset prices, and enabled issuers to sell assets with a reduced degree of protection for investors (we give you an example below). The combined trends of more expensive assets and a weakening quality of issuance could pose risks to stability.

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Legacies, Clouds and Uncertainties

WEOBy Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in Françaisespañol, 中文Русский日本語)

The recovery continues, but it is weak and uneven.

You have now seen the basic numbers from our latest projections in the October 2014 World Economic Outlook released today.  We forecast world growth to be 3.3% in 2014, down 0.1% from our July forecast, and 3.8% in 2015, down 0.2% from our July forecast.

This number hides however very different evolutions.  Some countries have recovered or nearly recovered.  But others are still struggling.

Looking around the world, economies are subject to two main forces.  One from the past:  Countries have to deal with the legacies of the financial crisis, ranging from debt overhangs to high unemployment.  One from the future, or more accurately, the anticipated future:   Potential growth rates are being revised down, and these worse prospects are in turn affecting confidence, demand, and growth today.

Because these two forces play in different countries to different degrees, economic evolutions are becoming more differentiated.  With this in mind, let me take you on the usual quick tour of the world:

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Socrates & the Pope: Overheard at the IMF’s Spring Meetings

By IMFdirect editors

Socrates’ famous method to develop his students’ intellect was to question them relentlessly in an unending search for contradictions and the truth—or at the very least, a great quote.

The method was alive and well among the moderators, panelists and audiences of the IMF’s Spring Meetings seminars that took place alongside official discussions, where boosting high-quality growth, with a focus on the medium term, was at the top of the agenda.  Our editors fanned out and found a couple of big themes kept coming up.  Here are some of the highlights.

Monetary policy 

Lots of people are talking about what happens when the flood of easy money into emerging markets thanks to low interest rates in advanced economies like the United States slows even more than it has in the past year.

At a seminar on fiscal policy the discussion focused on the challenges facing policymakers as central banks slowly exit from unconventional monetary policy and interest rates begin rising.

A live poll of the audience found 63 percent said the global economy remains weak and unconventional monetary policies should remain in place.

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Emerging Markets Need To Do More To Remain Engines of Global Growth

Min ZhuBy Min Zhu

(Version in FrançaisРусский日本語Portuguêsعربي 中文, and Español)

We had a big debate on emerging markets’ growth prospects at our Annual Meetings in October 2013. We lowered our 2013 growth forecast for emerging markets and developing economies by a whopping 0.5 percentage points compared to our earlier forecast. Some argued that we were too pessimistic. Others said that we should have stuck with the lower-growth scenario we had devised at the onset of the global financial crisis.

Fast forward to today. Indeed, most recent figures indicate that the engines of global growth—emerging markets and developing economies—have slowed significantly. Their growth rate dropped about 3 percentage points in 2013 from 2010 levels, with more than two thirds of countries seeing a decline— Brazil, China, and India lead the pack. This is important for the global economy, since these economies generate half of today’s global economic activity.

In my more recent travels around the world—five regions on three continents—I received the same questions everywhere: what is happening with the emerging markets? Is the slowdown permanent? Can emerging markets boost their growth? What are the downside risks?

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