IMF trims global economic outlook but tones down risk warnings

An employee works on a crane production line at a factory in Zhangjiakou in China's northern Hebei province, on Jan 13, 2020.
An employee works on a crane production line at a factory in Zhangjiakou in China's northern Hebei province, on Jan 13, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted the world economy will strengthen in 2020, albeit at a slightly weaker pace than previously anticipated amid threats related to trade and tensions in the Middle East.

Global growth will accelerate this year to 3.3 per cent from 2.9 per cent in 2019, the fund said on Monday (Jan 20). That's the first pickup in three years, but less than the 3.4 per cent projected in October. The 2019 estimate was reduced for a sixth time.

The report, however, contained some modest hope, noting that risks are "less skewed" toward negative outcomes. That outlook will be keenly discussed this week at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. The sense that global growth is stabilizing is shared by many economists, as well as some central banks.

For the IMF, which sees growth accelerating to 3.4 per cent in 2021, the positives include signs that the slump in manufacturing and global trade is bottoming out, "intermittent" good news on US-China trade talks and accommodative monetary policy.

It upgraded China's outlook on the back of the phase one deal with the US, but chief economist Gita Gopinath said the key thing is for both countries to push on and come up with a more durable agreement.

"If these tensions return, that will undo all of the improvements in policy uncertainty that we've seen recently," she told Bloomberg Television. "It's a bit of a wait and watch."

The Fund also quantified the impact of central banks' efforts to shore up growth last year. It said expansion in 2019 and 2020 would be 0.5 percentage point weaker without their stimulus.

BlackRock vice chairman Philip Hildebrand described that effort as an "extraordinary pivot back to easier monetary policy" that will help growth edge up this year.

The big drag on the new IMF forecasts was India, where the 2020 outlook was slashed by more than a percentage point. There were also very modest downgrades to projections for the US and the euro area. The prediction for global trade volume growth was cut to 2.9 per cent from 3.2 per cent, though that would still be far better than last year's 1 per cent.

There's also a clear impact from the US-China trade pact. According to the IMF, it reduces the cumulative negative effect on output from the battle through 2020 to 0.5 per cent from 0.8 per cent.

While risks have eased, the IMF was clear that that there's still plenty to worry about. Progress in trade talks is stop-start, simmering US-Iran tensions could hit oil supply, and there's also social unrest and weather-related disasters.

"The risk of protracted subpar global growth remains tangible despite tentative signs of stabilizing momentum," it said.

 
 
 

Separately, PricewaterhouseCoopers released a survey which showed the proportion of chief executive officers expecting global growth to slow in the coming year had risen 10-fold since 2018.

That means that over half of the 1,581 CEOs questioned in 83 countries see the pace of expansion slowing, the most since PwC began asking the question in 2012. The survey was conducted last September to October.

OTHER FORECASTS

The fund held or reduced its estimates for most of the world's biggest economies for 2020, with Japan a notable exception. It raised the outlook to 0.7 per cent from 0.5 per cent, reflecting the anticipated boost from stimulus measures undertaken in December.

The fund raised China's estimate by 0.2 percentage point to 6 per cent. The phase one trade deal is likely to alleviate near-term cyclical weakness, though unresolved disputes on broader US-China economic relations "will continue weighing on activity."

 

The 2020 estimate for the US was lowered by 0.1 percentage point to 2 per cent, and 2021 held at 1.7 per cent.

India's downgrade was because domestic demand has slowed more sharply than expected amid stress in the non-bank financial sector and a decline in credit growth, the fund said.