Fri | Dec 2, 2016

IMF cuts forecasts for global economic growth

Published:Wednesday | January 21, 2015 | 12:00 AM

By Chris Giles and Sarah O'Connor in London

Low oil prices will not provide a sufficient updraught to dispel the clouds hanging over the global economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Tuesday.

In a sign of its increasing gloom about the medium-term economic outlook, the IMF cut its global economic growth forecasts by 0.3 percentage points for both 2015 and 2016, despite believing cheaper oil represents a "shot in the arm".

Although the fund still believes the world economy is likely to grow 3.5 per cent this year, close to the average rate over the past 30 years, it had hoped for a period of much faster growth to recoup some of the output lost in the financial and economic crisis of 2008-9.

The fund downgraded its growth forecast for China by 0.5 percentage points next year which, if realised, would leave its economy growing more slowly than India's. The fund thinks the country's economy will expand 6.8 per cent in 2015 and 6.3 per cent in 2016. Official Chinese growth figures released on Tuesday reported growth of 7.4 per cent in 2014.

Christine Lagarde, IMF managing director, described the global growth outlook as "too low, too brittle and too lopsided" last week as the fund was putting the final touches to its forecasts.

In December, the IMF expected lower oil prices to boost underlying global growth rates by 0.3-0.8 percentage points. The cut in the overall forecasts highlights the extent to which it has become more pessimistic.

The update to the fund's World Economic Outlook, which revises the main forecasts from October, displays a deep concern that the downbeat mood is set to continue.

The weaker outlook in most countries stems from "investment weakness as adjustment to diminished expectations about medium-term growth continues in many advanced and emerging market economies", it says.

Having incorporated the 55 per cent decline in oil prices since September, a rise in the value of the dollar and these weaker medium-term prospects, the IMF believes the world economy will grow 3.5 per cent in 2015 and 3.7 per cent in 2016.

As well as China, there were big downgrades to the growth forecasts for Russia, Brazil, the Middle East and Africa.

Russia is set for a deep recession, with a contraction of 3 per cent forecast this year and 1 per cent next, according to the fund. More than 1 percentage point has been sliced from Brazil's forecast growth rate this year, with Latin America's largest economy likely to expand only 0.3 per cent in 2015 and 1.5 per cent next year, the IMF believes.

Compared with these large downgrades, the 0.2 and 0.3 percentage point cuts to the eurozone forecast for this year and next are relatively minor. They are based on the European Central Bank introducing quantitative easing this week.

The cut to the forecast will, however, increase the concern expressed by the IMF in October that there was a 40 per cent chance of the single-currency area slipping into its third recession since 2008.

The US and Spain enjoyed the largest uplift to their forecasts, with the US, the world's most important economy, expected to expand 3.6 per cent in 2015 and 3.3 per cent in 2016.

Forecasts for other large economies such as India and the UK, along with the eastern Europe region, were left largely unaltered.

To improve the outlook, the IMF continued to recommend loose monetary policy and increased infrastructure investment, which it believes helps increase medium-term growth and the more immediate recovery.

The fund's gloomy assessment chimed with an International Labour Organisation prediction, also published on Tuesday, that global unemployment will remain raised until at least 2017 as the slight fall in joblessness in advanced economies is offset by an increase in developing countries - a reversal of the trend in recent years.

"The challenge of bringing unemployment and underemployment back to pre-crisis levels now appears as daunting a task as ever, with considerable societal and economic risks associated with this situation," the ILO said in its World Employment and Social Outlook.

The ILO forecast that unemployment in the G20's advanced economies would fall from 7.7 per cent to 7 per cent, propelled by improvements in the US, UK and some southern European countries. But joblessness in the G20's emerging economies would increase from 5 per cent to 5.2 per cent, driven by increases in East Asia and Brazil, it said.

(c) The Financial Times Limited 2015