IMF says world economy has moved sideways

The International Monetary Fund warned that persistent stagnation could fuel populist calls for restrictions on trade and immigration that could hamper productivity, growth and innovation around the world.

In its October 2016 World Economic Outlook the IMF said global economic growth will remain subdued this year following a slowdown in the United States and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

It forecast advanced economies will expand a mere 1.6% in 2016, less than last year’s 2.1% pace and down from its July forecast of 1.8%.

The IMF reduced its forecast for the United States this year to 1.6%, from 2.2% in July.

It predicted UK will slow to 1.8% this year and to a mere 1.1% in 2017, down from 2.2% last year — and that the euro area will expand 1.7% this year and 1.5% next year, compared with 2% growth in 2015.

“Taken as a whole, the world economy has moved sideways,” said IMF chief economist and economic counsellor, Maurice Obstfeld.

“We have slightly marked down 2016 growth prospects for advanced economies while marking up those in the rest of the world,” he said.

The report highlighted the precarious nature of the recovery eight years after the global financial crisis.

It raised the specter “that persistent stagnation, particularly in advanced economies, could further fuel populist calls for restrictions on trade and immigration.”

Obstfeld said such restrictions would hamper productivity, growth, and innovation.

“It is vitally important to defend the prospects for increasing trade integration,’” Obstfeld said.

“Turning back the clock on trade can only deepen and prolong the world economy’s current doldrums.”

To support growth in the near term, the central banks in advanced economies should maintain easy monetary policies, the IMF said.

But it warned monetary policy alone “won’t restore vigor to economies dogged by slowing productivity growth and aging populations.”

Where possible, it said governments should spend more on education, technology, and infrastructure to expand productive capacity while taking steps to alleviate inequality.

The IMF forecast the world economy will expand 3.1% this year, unchanged from its July projection.

Next year, growth will increase slightly to 3.4% on the back of recoveries in major emerging market nations, including Russia and Brazil.

The IMF reduced its forecast for the United States this year to 1.6%, from 2.2% in July, following a disappointing first half caused by weak business investment and diminishing pace of stockpiles of goods.

It said US growth is likely to pick up to 2.2% next year as the drag from lower energy prices and dollar strength fades.

Any further increases in the US Federal Reserve’s policy rate “should be gradual and tied to clear signs that wages and prices are firming durably,” the IMF said.

The IMF said uncertainty following the Brexit’ referendum in June will take a toll on the confidence of investors.

“The European Central Bank should maintain its current appropriately accommodative stance,” the IMF said. “Additional easing through expanded asset purchases may be needed if inflation fails to pick up.”

Growth in Japan is expected to remain subdued at 0.5% this year and 0.6% in 2017.

“In the near term, government spending and easy monetary policy will support growth; in the medium term, Japan’s economy will be hampered by a shrinking population,” concluded the IMF.

In emerging market and developing economies, the IMF forecast growth will accelerate for the first time in six years, to 4.2%, slightly higher than the July forecast of 4.1%.

Next year, emerging economies are expected to grow 4.6%.

However, the IMF said prospects differ sharply across countries and regions.

In China, it said policymakers will continue to shift the economy away from its reliance on investment and industry toward consumption and services, “a policy that is expected to slow growth in the short term while building the foundations for a more sustainable long-term expansion.”

The IMF warned that China’s government should take steps to rein in credit that is “increasing at a dangerous pace” and cut off support to unviable state-owned enterprises and accept the associated slower GDP growth.

China’s economy, the world’s second largest, is forecast to expand 6.6% this year and 6.2% in 2017, down from growth of 6.9% last year.

“External financial conditions and the outlook for emerging market and developing economies will continue to be shaped to a significant extent by market perceptions of China’s prospects for successfully restructuring and rebalancing its economy,” the IMF said.

The IMF said growth in “emerging Asia” and especially India, continues to be resilient.

India’s gross domestic product is projected to expand 7.6% this year and next, the fastest pace among the world’s major economies.

The IMF urged India to continue reform of its tax system and eliminate subsidies to provide more resources for investments in infrastructure, education, and health care.

The report said sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economies continue to struggle with lower commodity revenues, weighing on growth in the region.

Nigeria’s economy is forecast to shrink 1.7% in 2016, and South Africa’s will barely expand.

By contrast, several of the region’s non-commodity exporters, including Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Senegal are expected to continue to grow at a robust pace of more than 5% this year.

Economic activity slowed in Latin America, with several countries stuck in recession — but recovery is expected in 2017.

Venezuela’s output is forecast to fall 10% this year and shrink another 4.5% in 2017.

The IMF said Brazil will see a contraction of 3.3% this year, but is expected to grow at 0.5% in 2017 “on the assumption of declining political and policy uncertainty and the waning effects of past economic shocks.”

It said countries in the Middle East are still confronting challenging conditions from subdued oil prices, as well as civil conflict and terrorism.