World Economy will have weak growth for a few years

Global growth for 2015 is projected at 3.1 percent, 0.3 percentage point lower than in 2014, and 0.2 percentage point below the forecasts in the July 2015 World Economic Outlook (WEO) Update. Prospects across the main countries and regions remain uneven. Relative to last year, the recovery in advanced economies is expected to pick up slightly, while activity in emerging market and developing economies is projected to slow for the fifth year in a row, primarily reflecting weaker prospects for some large emerging market economies and oil-exporting countries.

In October, IMF forecast that the world economy would grow by 3.6 percent in 2016.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said the prospect of rising interest rates in the United States and an economic slowdown in China were contributing to uncertainty and a higher risk of economic vulnerability worldwide.

Added to that, growth in global trade has slowed considerably and a decline in raw material prices is posing problems for economies based on these, while the financial sector in many countries still has weaknesses and financial risks are rising in emerging markets, she said.

“All of that means global growth will be disappointing and uneven in 2016,” Lagarde said, noting that mid-term prospects had also weakened as low productivity, aging populations and the effects of the global financial crisis dampened growth.

Downside risks more significant

Given the distribution of risks to the near-term outlook, global growth is more likely to fall short of expectations than to surprise on the upside. The WEO report outlines important shifts that could stall global recovery. These include:

• Lower oil and other commodity prices, which although benefiting commodity importers, complicate the outlook for commodity exporters, some of whom already face strained initial conditions (e.g., Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria).

• A sharper-than-expected slowdown in China, if the expected rebalancing toward a more market-based and consumption-driven growth proves more challenging than expected.

• Disruptive asset price shifts and a further increase in financial market volatility could involve a reversal of capital flows in emerging market economies. Further, renewed concerns about China’s growth potential, Greece’s future in the euro area, the impact of sharply lower oil prices, and contagion effects could be sparks for market volatility.

• A further appreciation of the U.S. dollar could pose balance sheet and funding risks for dollar debtors, especially in some emerging market economies, where foreign–currency corporate debt has increased substantially over the past few years.

• Increased geopolitical tensions in Ukraine, the Middle East, or parts of Africa could take a toll on confidence.

Policy upgrades to avoid low-growth traps

The report underscores that raising actual and potential output must remain the policy priority. This will require a combination of demand support and structural reforms.

In advanced economies, accommodative monetary policy continues to be essential, alongside macroprudential tools to contain financial sector risks, the report notes. On the fiscal side, countries with room for fiscal stimulus, such as Germany, should use it to boost public investment, especially in quality infrastructure.
Structural reforms are, of course, country specific. But the main planks include measures to strengthen labor force participation, facilitate labor market adjustment, tackle legacy debt overhang, and lower barriers to entry in product markets, especially in services.

Many emerging markets have increased their resilience to external shocks. Thanks to increased exchange rate flexibility, higher foreign exchange reserves, increased reliance on foreign direct investment flows and domestic-currency external financing, and generally stronger policy frameworks, many countries are now in a stronger position to manage heightened volatility.

Nevertheless, in a more complex external environment, emerging market and developing economies face a difficult trade-off between supporting demand amid slowing actual and potential growth and reducing vulnerabilities. The scope for policy easing varies considerably across countries, depending on macroeconomic conditions and sensitivity to commodity price shocks, as well as external, financial, and fiscal vulnerabilities.

For example, commodity exporters have to adjust to lower commodities-related revenue—gradually if fiscal buffers were built during the commodity boom, and more rapidly otherwise. In commodity-exporting countries with flexible exchange rate regimes, currency depreciation can help offset the demand impact of terms-of-trade losses. Yet, sharp exchange rate changes can also exacerbate vulnerabilities associated with high corporate leverage and foreign currency exposure. Therefore, exchange rate policy should not lose sight of financial stability considerations. At the same time, countries need to diversify their economies. Targeted structural reforms to raise productivity and remove bottlenecks to production can help countries to diversify their export bases.