Compared to where we were at the same time last year, acute risks have decreased. The United States has avoided the fiscal cliff, and the euro explosion in Europe did not occur. And uncertainty is lower. But we should be under no illusion. There remain considerable challenges ahead. And the recovery continues to be slow, indeed much too slow. Overall, these developments lead us to forecast 3.5 percent world growth for 2013.
The world is now in a much better situation than six months ago when it comes to policy solutions, according to Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance , who is Chair of the IMF's policy-setting committee, the IMFC, speaking about the outcome of the IMF-World Bank annual meetings in Tokyo.
As recognized in our Global Financial Stability Report, actions taken by the European Central Bank have helped remove investors’ worst fears. Now policymakers at both the national and euro area level will need to build on these. The stakes are high. For instance, if pressures continue, total assets of major banks in Europe could shrink by as much as $2.8 trillion, possibly leading to a contraction in credit supply in the "periphery" by 9 percent by the end of 2013.
The slow global recovery is making fiscal adjustment more difficult around the world, but this doesn’t mean that little has been accomplished. In fact, significant progress in many countries has been made during the past two years in strengthening their fiscal accounts after the 2008–09 deterioration.
In late 2012 or early 2013 the U.S. federal government will again reach a statutory borrowing limit and will not be able to issue additional debt. Why is this a problem? First, because the federal government is spending considerably more than it collects in taxes; and second, because spending and tax collections are not synchronized. As a result, if the ceiling is not raised in time, the government would need to cut spending drastically, curtailing important government functions, with detrimental effects on output and employment. And just the mere possibility that the government might have to delay a payment on a bond could unsettle financial markets.
We’ve just updated our latest assessment of the state of government finances, debts, and deficits in advanced and emerging economies. Fiscal adjustment is continuing in the advanced economies at a speed that is broadly appropriate, and roughly what we projected three months ago. In emerging economies there’s a pause in fiscal adjustment this year and next, but this too is generally appropriate, given that many of these countries have low debt and deficits.
The global recovery continues, but the recovery is weak; indeed a bit weaker than we forecast in April, says IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard. In the Euro zone, growth is close to zero, reflecting positive but low growth in the core countries, and negative growth in most periphery countries. In the United States, growth is positive, but too low to make a serious dent to unemployment. Growth has also slowed in major emerging economies, from China to India and Brazil.
The debate on austerity vs. growth has gained in intensity, as countries in Europe and elsewhere struggle with low growth, high debt, and rising unemployment. In essence, policymakers are being asked to tackle a continuation of the worst crisis since the Great Depression. This would be no easy task under any circumstances. But it is made considerably harder by the fact that a number of countries need to engage in fiscal consolidation simultaneously. Complicating the picture further is the fact that monetary policy in most advanced economies is approaching the limits of what it technically can do to stimulate activity, while global growth remains weak.