Saturday, 9 October 2010

News Analysis: For global recovery, a laundry list of risks

More than two years since the onset of the worst recession since the 1930s, advanced economies are starting to revive -- at a snail's pace.

While respectable growth is expected of the global economy -- nearly 5 percent this year and more than 4 percent next year -- demand is still weak in many advanced countries and unemployment still lingers at or near the double digits in both the United States and the Euro zone, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)'s World Economic Outlook released on Wednesday.

While a rebound is proceeding, experts fear any number of factors -- from debt consolidation to anti-trade sentiment -- could damage the still fragile recovery.

FISCAL CONSOLIDATION

According to the IMF, the main challenge for advanced economies is fiscal consolidation.

"What is essential here is not to so much to phase out fiscal stimulus now, but to offer a credible medium term plan for debt stabilization, and eventually for debt reduction," said the IMF's chief economist Olivier Blanchard at a press briefing on Wednesday.

Still, many will be reluctant to cut spending if growth is weak, and there are risks in cutting spending too soon.

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said the greatest risk to the recovery is the push to austerity in much of Europe and even in the United States, as the end of the stimulus will be contractionary.

"This could very well upend an extremely weak recovery," he said.

HOUSING

Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, said weakness in the U.S. housing market will impact the global recovery for some time to come, as the level of activity in this crucial sector of the world's largest economy will be so muted that it will hold down growth.

Indeed, the level of current housing sector activity is more consistent with a recession, she said.

A large chunk of the millions of American jobs lost in this recession have been in the construction industry, and the housing sector continues to be a major factor holding down employment, as it is not reviving enough to create a sufficient number of jobs, she said.

VARIED PACE OF GROWTH

The IMF is also urging more coordination between developed and developing economies, as the two worlds are seeing very different levels of growth.

Blanchard said on Wednesday that demand in developed world nations remains weak, as people are saving more and spending less, while emerging economies are rebounding at a much faster clip.

The IMF forecasts sluggish growth for advanced economies, at 2. 7 percent for 2010 and 2.2 percent for 2011. For the Euro area, a 1.7 percent growth is forecast for this year and 1.5 percent for 2011.

But in emerging economies, consumption and investment are contributing to strong growth, which as a whole is forecast to reach 7.1 percent in 2010 and 6.4 percent for 2011, according to IMF statistics.

"Sustained, healthy recovery rests on two rebalancing acts: internal rebalancing, with a strengthening of private demand in advanced economies, allowing for fiscal consolidation; and external rebalancing, with an increase in net exports in deficit countries, such as the United States, and a decrease in net exports in surplus countries, notably emerging Asia," according to the World Economic Outlook.

Many interpret this to mean that a part of the IMF's push for a "rebalancing" should involve appreciating the Chinese Yuan.

But Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Wednesday urged European leaders in Brussels to refrain from pushing for a stronger Chinese currency.

"If the yuan is not stable, it will bring disaster to China and the world," he said in a speech. "I say to Europe's leaders: Don't join the chorus pressing to revalue the yuan."

"If we increase the yuan by 20 percent or 40 percent, as some people are calling for, many of our factories will shut down and society will be in turmoil," he said.

IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Friday urged nations not to succumb to a currency war.

RISING TIDE OF ANTI-TRADE FEELING

Perhaps the greatest threat to recovery in the long run, according to some economists, is growing populist sentiment against international trade, which is on the rise in the United States.

"This issue seems to be unraveling quickly. And we know from history that protectionism shrinks the economy and does not increase the economy," Swonk said.

"We got ourselves into this mess together, and the only way out of it is to coordinate policies across borders and instead we are all starting to throw stones and we all live in glass houses," she said.

Ralph C. Bryant, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said such feelings are worrying.

"It's very easy to look at foreigners and say 'you're preventing us from exporting' and there have been times in history when it has had adverse effects," he said.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

Still, the fundamental question at the heart of the global economic recovery remains unanswered: where is demand going to come from?

Ben Carliner, director of research at the Economic Strategy Institute, said the global economy has not yet adjusted to a decrease in demand from the developed world.

The continuing efforts in the United States and Europe to recover from systemic financial crises have left consumers, banks and public sectors struggling to improve their balance sheets, he said.

As these efforts depress aggregate demand, easy monetary policies, in the form of low nominal interest rates and in some cases quantitative easing, are and will continue to be used to offset the demand shock, he said.

For emerging economies that depend on exports of manufactured goods, the principal challenge is how to respond to this external shock, as foreign demand for emerging world exports has dried up, he said.

IS THERE HOPE?

In spite of the many risks that could derail a recovery, there may be some good news on the horizon, some economists said.

The countries that did not experience the drastic slowdown via housing will most likely be able to perform much better, said Andy Busch, a global currency and public policy strategist at BMO Capital Markets.

While unemployment is high in the United States, a new congress will be voted in November, and could move to settle down some of the uncertainties for small business, which some economists say are unable to make hiring decisions because they do not know what legislation will come out of Washington next.

"That will lead to faster growth than many people are anticipating right now," he said. Still, not all economists agree with that assessment, and some observers predict that Congress will continue to be deadlocked along party lines after the elections.

Source: Xinhua

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