By Portia Nkani
The global economy faces a number of complex challenges from technological change and globalization, and the lingering effects of the 2008-9 financial crisis.
Global growth is moderating as the recovery in trade and manufacturing activity loses steam. Despite ongoing negotiations, trade tensions among major economies remain elevated. These tensions, combined with concerns about softening global growth prospects, have weighed on investor sentiment and contributed to declines in global equity prices.
On monetary policy, there is considerable discussion about how central banks can respond to a deep or prolonged downturn.
The latest World Banks’ Global Economic Prospects report shows that, borrowing costs for emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) have increased, in part as major advanced-economy central banks continue to withdraw policy accommodation in varying degrees.
A strengthening U.S. dollar, heightened financial market volatility, and rising risk premiums have intensified capital outflow and currency pressures in some large EMDEs, with some vulnerable countries experiencing substantial financial stress. Energy prices have fluctuated markedly, mainly due to supply factors, with sharp falls toward the end of 2018. Other commodity pricesÔÇöparticularly metalsÔÇöhave also weakened, posing renewed headwinds for commodity exporters. Economic activity in advanced economies has been diverging of late. Growth in the United States has remained solid, bolstered by fiscal stimulus. In contrast, activity in the Euro Area has been somewhat weaker than previously expected, owing to slowing net exports. While growth in advanced economies is estimated to have slightly decelerated to 2.2 percent last year, it is still above potential and in line with previous forecasts. EMDE growth edged down to an estimated 4.2 percent in 2018ÔÇö0.3 percentage point slower than previously projectedÔÇöas a number of countries with elevated current account deficits experienced substantial financial market pressures and appreciable slowdowns in activity. More generally, as suggested by recent high-frequency indicators, the recovery among commodity exporters has lost momentum significantly, largely owing to country-specific challenges within this group. Activity in commodity importers, while still robust, has slowed somewhat, reflecting capacity constraints and decelerating export growth. In low-income countries (LICs), growth is firming as infrastructure investment continues and easing drought conditions support a rebound in agricultural output. However, LIC metals exporters are struggling partly reflecting softer metals prices.
Central banks in many EMDEs have tightened policy to varying degrees to confront currency and inflation pressures.
In all, global growth is projected to moderate from a downwardly revised 3 percent in 2018 to 2.9 percent in 2019 and 2.8 percent in 2020-21, as economic slack dissipates, monetary policy accommodation in advanced economies is removed, and global trade gradually slows.
“Softening global trade and tighter financing conditions will result in a more challenging external environment for EMDE economic activity. EMDE growth is expected to stall at 4.2 percent in 2019ÔÇö0.5 percentage point below previous forecasts, partly reflecting the lingering effects of recent financial stress in some large economies (e.g., Argentina, Turkey), with a sharply weaker-than-expected pickup in commodity exporters accompanied by a deceleration in commodity importers. EMDE growth is projected to plateau at an average of 4.6 percent in 2020-21, as the recovery in commodity exporters levels off,” reads the report.
Per capita growth will remain anemic in several EMDE regionsÔÇömost notably, in those with a large number of commodity exportersÔÇölikely impeding further poverty alleviation. The projected gradual deceleration of global economic activity over the forecast horizon could be more severe than currently expected given the predominance of substantial downside risks. A sharper-than-expected tightening of global financing conditions, or a renewed rapid appreciation of the U.S. dollar, could exert further downward pressure on activity in EMDEs, including in those with large current account deficits financed by portfolio and bank flows.
Government and/or private sector debt has also risen in a majority of EMDEs over the last few years, including in many LICs, reducing the fiscal room to respond to shocks and heightening the exposure to shifts in market sentiment and rising borrowing costs. Escalating trade tensions are another major downside risk to the global outlook. If all tariffs currently under consideration were implemented, they would affect about 5 percent of global trade flows and could dampen growth in the economies involved, leading to negative global spillovers.
While some countries could benefit from traded diversion in the short run, rising trade protectionism would stifle investment and severely disrupt global value chains, contributing to higher prices and lower productivity. Other downside risks, such as heightened political uncertainty, escalating geopolitical tensions, and conflict further cloud the outlook.