IMF cuts forecasts for growth, says slowdowns outweigh cheap oil

Even with reductions, the IMF forecast the world economy will be growing faster than in 2014

TOKYO – The International Monetary Fund lowered its forecasts for global growth over the next two years, warning Tuesday that weakness in most major economies will trump gains from lower oil prices. The IMF’s report was released as China reported its slowest growth in 24 years.

The IMF downgraded projections it issued in October by 0.3 percentage point each, predicting global growth at 3.5 per cent this year and 3.7 per cent in 2016.

But even with those reductions, the world economy will be growing faster than in 2014, when the IMF estimates it expanded 3.3 per cent. Much of the momentum is coming from an accelerating recovery in the U.S., the world’s largest economy.

China reported Tuesday that its economic growth slowed to 7.4 per cent last year, the weakest expansion since 1990, compounding the challenges for the country’s communist leaders as they try to overhaul the economy.

Europe, Japan and Russia are also logging slower growth, while the U.S. is a rare bright spot.

“The recovery in the U.S. is quite strong and therefore it will continue, despite the appreciation of the dollar,” Olivier Blanchard, the IMF’s director of research, told reporters in Beijing in a briefing broadcast online.

The advanced economies are forecast to expand by 2.4 per cent in 2015, a smidgen higher than earlier thought, and at the same rate in 2016. Growth in developing economies is forecast to slip to 4.3 per cent from an estimated 4.4 per cent in 2014, but then recover to 4.7 per cent in 2016.

The IMF forecast Canadian growth for 2015 at 2.3 per cent, down 0.1 per cent from its October 2014 prediction. Canadian economic growth in 2016 is pegged at 2.1 per cent by the IMF, down 0.3 per cent from last October.

“New factors supporting growth – lower oil prices, but also depreciation of the euro and yen – are more than offset by persistent negative forces, including the lingering legacies of the crisis and lower potential growth in many countries,” Blanchard said.

Diminished expectations for many economies are discouraging investment, which in turn is undermining potential future growth, the report said. Blanchard described Russia’s outlook as “quite bleak” and said the slower growth in China would hurt nations it imports from, especially in Asia.

“The most obvious risks involve stagnation in the eurozone, or Japan, or both,” Blanchard said.

Massive monetary and fiscal stimulus have yet to trigger strong corporate spending in Japan, where companies are pessimistic about a rebound in consumer demand because of the country’s shrinking and aging population.

Still, the 55 per cent plunge in oil prices in U.S. dollar terms since September is raising the purchasing power of consumers and businesses in Japan and many countries, while also raising demand among oil importers. It also reduces pressure on central banks to raise interest rates to cool inflation.

That presents a “complicated mosaic” of implications, Blanchard said, with some countries reaping windfalls in energy savings while others face smaller tax and export revenue.

Overall, weaker prices for oil and other commodities are sapping growth prospects for countries in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa – especially Nigeria and South Africa – and Latin America. China’s slowdown will stunt growth throughout developing Asia.

Among the key trends and possibilities it outlines:

– World trade will accelerate in advanced economies, growing 3.7 per cent in 2015 and 4.8 per cent in 2016, up from 3.0 per cent last year. But growth in trade volume will fall this year in emerging markets such as China before rebounding to expand 6.1 per cent in 2016.

– Weaker oil prices will drag on inflation, with consumer prices rising only 1.0 per cent in the advanced economies and 5.7 per cent in emerging markets.

– Volatility in prices for oil and other resources has raised risks in global financial markets, with a potential for destabilizing outflows of money from emerging markets.

– Geopolitical risks such as turmoil in the Middle East and war in Ukraine remain high, though ample supplies have reduced the likelihood of serious supply disruptions.

– Lower oil prices could give both producing and consuming countries the leeway to enact energy reforms. Eliminating subsidies may free up resources for helping the poor or building needed infrastructure.

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