Despite setbacks, an uneven global recovery continues. In advanced economies, the legacies of the precrisis boom and the subsequent crisis, including high private and public debt, still cast a shadow on the recovery. Emerging markets are adjusting to rates of economic growth lower than those reached in the precrisis boom and the postcrisis recovery. Overall, the pace of recovery is becoming more country specific.
After a slowdown in the first half of 2014, global growth is forecast to strengthen to 3.5 percent in the second half of 2014 and 3.8 percent in 2015. But growth is uneven and still weak overall and remains susceptible to many downside risks. Production disruptions or sharply higher global oil prices—due to geopolitical tensions—would reduce global growth, as would an unexpected tightening in financial conditions owing to higher-than-expected U.S. long-term interest rates or increased risk aversion. Over the medium term, protracted weak demand in advanced economies could result in lower growth everywhere, including, in part, through negative supply-side effects.
This chapter finds that increased public infrastructure investment raises output in both the short and long term, particularly during periods of economic slack and when investment efficiency is high. This suggests that in countries with infrastructure needs, the time is right for an infrastructure push: borrowing costs are low and demand is weak in advanced economies, and there are infrastructure bottlenecks in many emerging market and developing economies. Debt-financed projects could have large output effects without increasing the debt-to-GDP ratio, if clearly identified infrastructure needs are met through efficient investment.
Global current account (“flow”) imbalances have narrowed significantly since their peak in 2006, and their configuration has changed markedly in the process. The imbalances that used to be the main concern—the large deficit in the United States and surpluses in China and Japan—have more than halved. But some surpluses, especially those in some European economies and oil exporters, remain large, and those in some advanced commodity exporters and major emerging market economies have since moved to deficit. This chapter argues that the reduction of large flow imbalances has diminished systemic risks to the global economy. Nevertheless, two concerns remain. First, the nature of the flow adjustment—mostly driven by demand compression in deficit economies or growth differentials related to the faster recovery of emerging market economies and commodity exporters after the Great Recession—has meant that in many economies, narrower external imbalances have come at the cost of increased internal imbalances (high unemployment and large output gaps). The contraction in these external imbalances is expected to last as the decrease in output due to lowered demand has likely been matched by a decrease in potential output. However, there is some uncertainty about the latter, and there is the risk that flow imbalances will widen again. Second, since flow imbalances have shrunk but not reversed, net creditor and debtor positions (“stock imbalances”) have widened further. In addition, weak growth has contributed to increases in the ratio of net external liabilities to GDP in some debtor economies. These two factors make some of these economies more vulnerable to changes in market sentiment. To mitigate these risks, debtor economies will ultimately need to improve their current account balances and strengthen growth performance. Stronger external demand and more expenditure switching (from foreign to domestic goods and services) would help on both accounts. Policy measures to achieve both stronger and more balanced growth in the major economies, including in surplus economies with available policy space, would also be beneficial.
The pace of recovery has disappointed in recent years, and downside risks have increased, including from heightened geopolitical tensions. These increased risks make it a priority to raise actual and potential growth. In a number of economies, an increase in public infrastructure investment can also provide support to demand and help boost potential output. And in advanced economies as well as emerging and developing economies there is a general, urgent need for structural reforms to strengthen growth potential or make growth more sustainable. The four individual chapters examine the overall global outlook, the prospects for individual countries and regions, the benefits of increased public infrastructure investment in terms of raising output, and the extent to which global imbalances have narrowed significantly since their peak in 2006.