Mediocre Growth, High Risks, and The Long Road Ahead


By Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in Español, عربي)

For the past six months, the world economy has been on what is best described as a roller coaster.

Last autumn, a simmering European crisis became acute, threatening another Lehman-size event, and the end of the recovery.  Strong policy measures were taken, new governments came to power in Italy and Spain, the European Union adopted a tough fiscal pact, and the European central bank injected badly needed liquidity.   Things have quieted down since, but an uneasy calm remains.  At any moment, it seems, things could get bad again.

This shapes our forecasts.  Our baseline forecast, released by the IMF on April 17,  is for low growth in advanced countries, especially in Europe.  But downside risks are very much present.

Brakes hampering growth

This baseline is constructed on the assumption that another European flare-up will be avoided, but that uncertainty will linger on.   It recognizes that, even in this case, there are still strong brakes to growth in advanced countries:  Fiscal consolidation is needed and is proceeding, but is weighing on growth.  Bank deleveraging is also needed, but is leading, especially in Europe, to tight credit.  In many countries, in particular in the United States, some households are burdened with high debt, leading to lower consumption. Foreclosures are weighing on housing prices, and on housing investment.

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Latin America: Making the Good Times Last


By Nicolás Eyzaguirre

(Version in Español)

Last week I attended the Annual Meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank in Montevideo, Uruguay where I gave a preview for growth in the region.

If I had to summarize the global backdrop for Latin America in four words, I would say “favorable, but still risky.” The global setting is favorable for two reasons:

  • First, some of the recent data has come in a bit stronger than expected, particularly figures on U.S. economic activity and employment. In the emerging markets sphere, growth remains fairly solid. Notably, China continues to put in a good performance, even though growth is easing and its exports are down somewhat. Good growth in Asia supports demand for Latin America’s key commodity exports, keeping terms of trade favorable.
  • Second, major countries have taken some important policy steps to underpin global growth and stability. In Europe, the European Central Bank’s Long Term Refinancing Operation has eased liquidity pressures for European banks and sovereigns and headed off a large deleveraging that would have crimped growth. Also, stronger fiscal adjustment programs and progress in resolving Greece’s stresses have supported confidence. In the United States, the Federal Reserve’s lengthening into 2014 of its commitment to maintain ultra-low interest rates, along with the extension of payroll tax relief and unemployment benefits, are bolstering demand and employment.

Overall, conditions and the outlook remain relatively favorable for the region. Commodity prices continue to ride high, despite some recent setbacks, thanks to buoyant emerging-market demand. Accommodative monetary policies in the major countries, and ample liquidity, maintain easy financing conditions for the more creditworthy countries. Indeed, the reemergence of strong capital inflows is again putting unwelcome upward pressure on exchange rates in some financially-open countries.

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Lagarde: “World Economy Not Out of Danger Zone”


Although a derailing of the global recovery has been avoided, the world economy is still not out of the danger zone, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said after the conclusion of the Group of 20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting in Mexico City.

“Over the last two days, we discussed the challenges facing the world economy and continued our deliberations over next steps and actions,” she said in a February 26 press statement.

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Driving the Global Economy with the Brakes On


By Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in  عربي中文EspañolFrançaisРусский日本語)

After the speech by the IMF’s Managing Director in Berlin yesterday, my main messages on the global outlook will not surprise you.

Starting with the bad news–the world recovery, which was weak in the first place, is in danger of stalling. The epicenter of the danger is Europe, but the rest of the world is increasingly affected.

There is an even greater danger, namely that the European crisis intensifies. In this case, the world could be plunged into another recession.

Turning to the good news–with the right set of measures, the worst can definitely be avoided, and the recovery can be put back on track. These measures can be taken, need to be taken, and need to be taken urgently.

And now the numbers, starting at the epicenter:

The IMF’s forecast for growth in Euro Area for 2012 is ‑0.5 percent—this marks a decrease of 1.6 percentage points relative to our September 2011 projection. In particular, we predict negative growth in Italy (‑2.2 percent) and Spain (‑1.7 percent).

We have also revised downwards our forecasts for other advanced countries, although by less. Only for the United States, is our forecast unchanged at 1.8 percent.

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2011 In Review: Four Hard Truths


By Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in  عربي中文, EspañolFrançaisРусский, 日本語)

What a difference a year makes …

We started 2011 in recovery mode, admittedly weak and unbalanced, but nevertheless there was hope. The issues appeared more tractable: how to deal with excessive housing debt in the United States, how to deal with adjustment in countries at the periphery of the Euro area, how to handle volatile capital inflows to emerging economies, and how to improve financial sector regulation.

It was a long agenda, but one that appeared within reach.

Yet, as the year draws to a close, the recovery in many advanced economies is at a standstill, with some investors even exploring the implications of a potential breakup of the euro zone, and the real possibility that conditions may be worse than we saw in 2008.

I draw four main lessons from what has happened.

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What the Arab Spring Has Taught Us


By Masood Ahmed

(Version in عربي)

As we launch the IMF’s Arabic blog, Economic Window, we are witnessing an historic shift in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). It is clear that the popular uprisings that began 10 months ago were born of a desire for greater freedom and for a more widespread and fairer distribution of economic opportunities.

But the scale of protests in the region and the associated deplorable loss of life came as a surprise to everyone, including us at the IMF.

Like others, we had pointed to the ticking time bomb of high unemployment, but we did not anticipate the consequences of the unequal access to opportunities. We had focused our efforts on helping countries in the region build solid macroeconomic foundations, liberalize economic activity, and introduce market-based reforms that would generate higher economic growth. IMF lending, policy advice, and technical assistance have indeed contributed to improving the economic indicators of many countries in the region. However, with hindsight, it is clear that we were not paying enough attention to how the benefits of economic growth were being shared.

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Union Jack: Be Nimble, Be Quick


By Ajai Chopra

The U.K. government should be nimble in its policy response if it looks as though the economy is headed for a prolonged period of weak growth, high unemployment, and subdued inflation. Currently, we don’t expect this scenario to happen. But if such a scenario appears to be in prospect, we recommend responding quickly with some combination of further quantitative easing by the Bank of England and temporary tax cuts.

The most likely scenario for the U.K. economy is that it will gradually recover, although it will face continued headwinds from a soft housing market, household and financial sector deleveraging, and ongoing consolidation of the budget. Against this, the economy should get a push from private investment and an increase in exports driven by the global recovery. Labor productivity may also rebound and improve competitiveness.

Led by these forces, the IMF is expecting a bumpy and uneven recovery in the U.K. and our updated growth forecast for the near term, taking into account the recent GDP release for the second quarter, will be published with the September World Economic Outlook. Over the medium term, we expect growth to accelerate gradually to about 2½ percent. Continue reading

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