Journal Issue

World Economic Outlook: Amid Serious Market Crisis, IMF Predicts Slower growth

International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
May 2008
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Global growth will decelerate in 2008, led by a sharp slowdown in the United States, amid a housing correction and a financial crisis that has quickly spread from the U.S. subprime sector to core parts of the financial system, the IMF says in its latest World Economic Outlook (WEO).

Citing the unfolding financial market turmoil as the biggest downside risk to the global economy, the April 2008 report said the IMF expects world growth to slow to 3.7 percent in 2008—0.5 percentage point lower than what was forecast in the January 2008 WEO update.

Further, world growth would achieve little pickup in 2009, and there is a 25 percent chance that the global economy will record growth of 3 percent or less in 2008 and 2009, equivalent to a global recession, according to the forecast, released on April 9.

Highlighting high commodity prices as another downside risk, IMF Chief Economist Simon Johnson said that “the effect of the financial turmoil in the United States has been to lower the prospects of growth, but, somewhat paradoxically, it has also increased oil prices, metal prices, and, of course, food prices.”

Johnson pointed out that “the increases in commodity prices create severe inflationary pressures in many countries, and they make it much harder for monetary and fiscal policy to manage this part of the global business cycle.”

Gloomy prospects

Blaming the twin forces of deteriorating financial market conditions and the continuing correction in the U.S. housing market, the IMF predicts that the United States will slip into a “mild recession” in 2008, from which it will recover only modestly in 2009. This reflects the time it will take for financial institutions and households to resolve their balance sheet problems. The slowing of activity is reflected in weakening employment, consumption, and other indicators.

The report has sharply marked down its U.S. forecast for 2008 to 0.5 percent—1 percentage point lower than what was forecast in January 2008 and down from a 2.2 percent growth rate in 2007 (see table).

The ongoing financial crisis has led to persistent liquidity shortages, pressure on the capital of banks and other financial institutions, increasing credit risks, and sharply falling prices of mortgage-related and other structured securities, as well as of equities, the report said. The IMF issued a separate report on April 8 on global market conditions, ahead of the spring meetings of the IMF and the World Bank in Washington.

The worsening market conditions and the growth standstill in the United States have affected economic activity in other advanced economies, especially western Europe, where growth is expected to remain sluggish in 2008 and 2009, although Japan has remained more resilient to the downturn (see Chart 1). The slowdown in Western Europe is largely a result of financial strains and trade spillovers. The potential impact of softening house prices in many countries is a source of concern.

Chart 1Slowing economies

Growth in advanced economies is being most affected by financial turbulence.

(percent change)

Citation: 37, 4; 10.5089/9781451967661.023.A003

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook database.

The euro area is now estimated to grow at 1.4 percent in 2008—compared with 2.6 percent in 2007—and the United Kingdom at 1.6 percent—compared with 3.1 percent in 2007.

Diverging, not decoupling

By contrast, the rapidly globalizing emerging economies have so far been less affected by financial market turbulence and have continued to grow at a rapid pace, led by India and China, although economic activity is beginning to moderate in some countries. Nevertheless, according to the IMF, growth across all emerging and developing regions will remain above trend (see Chart 2).

Chart 2

Resilient economies: Growth in emerging and developing economies is slowing, but it is still above trend.

(percent change)

Citation: 37, 4; 10.5089/9781451967661.023.A003

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook database. Note: CIS = Commonwealth of Independent States.

China and India—which grew at 11.4 percent and 9.2 percent in 2007, respectively—are projected to grow at 9.3 percent and 7.9 percent, respectively, in 2008. Other emerging and developing economies, including in Africa and Latin America, are also expected to maintain robust growth rates.

Emerging and developing economies have been more resilient during the current market turmoil than in previous episodes, although countries that had relied heavily on short-term cross-border borrowing or have stronger trade ties with the United States remain vulnerable to deleveraging.

Growth slower as fallout deepens

Growth forecasts for most advanced economies have been marked down; many emerging economies are also slowing but will maintain above-trend growth.

(annual percent change)

Current projections
World output5.
Advanced economies3.
United States2.
Euro area2.
United Kingdom2.
Emerging and developing economies7.
Central and eastern Europe6.
Middle East5.
Western Hemisphere5.
Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook, April 2008.

Three broad factors are providing the momentum for growth in emerging and developing economies: first, strong productivity gains from the continuing global integration of these economies; second, better terms of trade for commodity producers as prices of commodities such as oil and other raw materials continue to soar; and, third, stronger institutions and macroeconomic policy frameworks.

Soaring commodities

The ongoing commodity price boom continued in early 2008, notwithstanding the market turmoil and slowing growth in major advanced economies. The IMF commodity price index rose by 44 percent from February 2007 to February 2008. Prices of many commodities—including crude oil, tin, nickel, soybeans, corn, and wheat—reached record highs in current U.S. dollar terms.

Strong demand from emerging economies has accounted for much of the increase in commodity consumption in recent years and has been the driving force in the price run-up. Biofuel-related demand has added to the demand for major food crops, especially corn.

At the same time, supply adjustments to higher prices have not kept up, especially for oil, leading to medium-to long-term low inventory levels in many markets. Also, financial trends—including the effective depreciation of the dollar, falling U.S. policy interest rates, and the emergence of commodities as an alternative asset class—have all contributed to the soaring prices.

Rising inflation

Inflation continues to be a serious concern throughout the world. According to the IMF, headline inflation (that is, total inflation, including food and energy) has increased across the world, and core inflation (which excludes food and energy prices) is edging up.

Inflation is rising more markedly in many emerging and developing economies, driven by a combination of the continued buoyancy of food and energy prices, strong demand, and credit growth. Rising inflation in these countries also reflects the greater weight of energy and food in consumption baskets.

Policy challenges

The WEO underscores that in a multipolar world—with deepening financial and economic linkages across both advanced and developing economies—policy challenges need to be met broadly. That is, while recognizing differences in countries’ circumstances, policy actions in a globalized world need to fully take into account cross-border interactions.

The advanced economies face the pressing policy challenges of addressing the financial turmoil and responding to downside risks to growth while simultaneously keeping an eye on inflation and long-term concerns. Emerging and developing economies need to ensure that strong current growth does not lead to inflation buildup while remaining alert to risks from growth slowdown in advanced economies.

In addition to monetary policy, fiscal policy could play a useful stabilizing role in the advanced economies in the event of a continuing downturn in economic activity. In case of a severe global downturn, providing fiscal stimulus across a broad group of countries could prove much more effective than isolated efforts by bolstering confidence and demand, given the inevitable cross-border leakages from added spending in open economies.

Subir Lall

IMF Research Department

For WEO analysis on the housing sector and on commodities, see articles on pages 62–64. Both WEO studies—as well as a third one, “Climate Change and the Global Economy”—are available on the IMF’s website at the following address:

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