World Economic Outlook: Current Situation and Prospects

International Monetary Fund. Research Dept.
Published Date:
January 1985
  • ShareShare
Show Summary Details

There have been increasing signs of hesitancy in the pace of world economic expansion in the first half of 1985. In the United States, output growth declined to an average of 1 percent (at an annual rate) in the first two quarters of the year from 5.7 percent during 1984, and in other industrial countries the pace of recovery was also generally subdued. Commodity prices fell significantly, thus weakening growth prospects in many developing countries. These developments have not led to major revisions in the projections for industrial countries for the remainder of 1985 and 1986, in part because some of the factors affecting economic performance in the first half of 1985 are expected to be temporary. In the developing world, however, growth in 1985 and 1986 is now expected to be somewhat less than was foreseen six months ago. Moreover, the recent weakness of economic activity serves to underscore the downside risks in the staffs projections and to focus attention on the policy issues that would arise if growth were to slow more significantly.

This report presents revised projections resulting from a country-by-country updating of the estimates published in the April 1985 World Economic Outlook. The projections are based on the usual technical assumptions of (1) unchanged nominal exchange rates among industrial countries (at the pattern prevailing on July 22, 1985); (2) unchanged oil prices in nominal U.S. dollar terms (at the level prevailing after the meeting in late July 1985 of the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries—OPEC); and (3) “constant policies.” (In some cases, constant policies have been interpreted to include policy changes that have been announced but not yet implemented.)

In present circumstances, considerable uncertainty attaches to these assumptions, as well as to the nature of the behavioral relationships by which they are linked with economic outturns. Special attention is therefore given in the later sections of this report to possible alternative paths of developments in the world economy and to the channels by which policies and developments in major economies interact with those of their trading partners. The discussion of policy issues that concludes the report covers a number of questions that arise as a result of the uncertainties that are noted.

The policy conclusions that emerge from the analysis indicate that much remains to be done if expansion in the world economy is to be placed on a firmer footing and if the prospects for combining growth with financial stability in indebted countries are to be improved. A key requirement is a significant reduction in the U.S. fiscal deficit. Such a reduction would address one of the most troubling financial imbalances that cloud the outlook for sustained economic expansion. At the same time, however, European countries will need to tackle more effectively the structural rigidities that impede their economic performance, and Japan will need to ensure that its output growth is based on a satisfactory rate of growth of domestic demand. In the developing world, weaker prospects for export growth make it all the more necessary for effective adjustment policies to improve the allocation of domestic resources. A particular issue in this connection is the need for countries that have not yet made adequate progress in stabilizing prices to tackle inflationary pressures more firmly.

Finally, the report stresses the interactions of policies and developments among Fund members. These interactions are particularly evident from the way in which differences in economic policy mix have affected domestic savings and investment positions and hence interest rate differentials and trade flows. These differences are worrisome when they give rise to unsustainable imbalances, and when the means for correcting such imbalances are unclear. They are especially troubling when, as at present, they generate demands for measures such as trade restrictions. Avoiding recourse to such a fundamentally destructive policy response is a prime objective of international economic policy in current circumstances.

Output, Employment, and Prices


World output grew less rapidly in the first half of 1985 than was foreseen in the April 1985 World Economic Outlook. The staff expects the pace of expansion in the industrial countries to pick up from mid-1985 onwards, although activity in developing countries is projected to grow more slowly than in the earlier estimates. Taking all countries together, the projected rate of growth of world output is expected to be in the vicinity of 3 percent, slightly less than the 3.4 percent envisaged in April (Table I). The projected growth rate in 1986 is unchanged at about 3½ percent. The downward revision of the staffs earlier estimates for 1985 is due to two main factors: a sharper-than-expected deceleration of growth in the United States in the first half of 1985, and slower growth in those developing countries that export primary products, resulting in part from weaker-than-expected export demand.

Table I.Revisions to the Projections: World Output, 1984-861
Current ProjectionsRevisions Compared with April World Economic Outlook
(Changes from preceding year, in percent)19841985

(In percentage points)
Industrial countries4.92.83.1−0.30.1
Of which, United States6.82.63.3−0.80.3
European countries2.32.32.5−0.1−0.10.1
Developing countries4.−0.5−0.4
Fuel exporters2.−2.0−0.8
Non-fuel exporters5.−0.2
Primary product exporters3.−0.7−0.7
Exporters of manufactures8.
Service and remittance countries3.13.94.0−0.2−0.20.3
Other countries23.13.63.5

Real GDP (or GNP) for industrial and developing countries and real net material product (NMP) for other countries. (For classification of countries in groups shown here, see the Introduction to the Statistical Appendix.) Composites for the country groups are averages of percentage changes for individual countries weighted by the average U.S. dollar value of their respective GDPs (GNPs or NMPs where applicable) over the preceding three years. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the valuation of the composite NMP of the other countries, that group has been assigned—somewhat arbitrarily—a weight of 15 percent in the calculation of the growth of world output.

The U.S.S.R. and other countries of Eastern Europe that are not members of the Fund. The forecasts for these countries have not been updated from those given in April.

Real GDP (or GNP) for industrial and developing countries and real net material product (NMP) for other countries. (For classification of countries in groups shown here, see the Introduction to the Statistical Appendix.) Composites for the country groups are averages of percentage changes for individual countries weighted by the average U.S. dollar value of their respective GDPs (GNPs or NMPs where applicable) over the preceding three years. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the valuation of the composite NMP of the other countries, that group has been assigned—somewhat arbitrarily—a weight of 15 percent in the calculation of the growth of world output.

The U.S.S.R. and other countries of Eastern Europe that are not members of the Fund. The forecasts for these countries have not been updated from those given in April.

The slower growth in several of the major industrial countries in the early part of 1985, though not unexpected, was more abrupt and more generalized than envisaged in the April 1985 World Economic Outlook. However, analysis of developments in individual countries suggests that part of this sluggishness can be attributed to factors that are expected to subside or be reversed in the second half of the year. With regard to the outlook for developing countries, the weakness of commodity prices appears to be related to factors that should diminish in importance, such as weak inventory demand and unusually ample supplies.

The balance of forces acting on the world economy remains fundamentally unchanged and should continue to sustain the recovery, albeit at a relatively modest pace. Inflation in the industrial countries has been reduced considerably and is unlikely to re-emerge as a major constraint on growth in the immediate future. The profit situation remains more satisfactory than two or three years ago, providing a basis for continued growth in business investment. Monetary conditions have eased in several major countries, including the United States. Finally, the success of adjustment policies in non-fuel exporting developing countries, combined with lower international interest rates, implies that the financing constraint facing these countries will be less than in some recent years. These positive factors may be partly offset, in the short term, by the direct effects of fiscal retrenchment in several major countries, as well as by the continued restraining influence of structural rigidities. However, lower budget deficits in those countries with large existing imbalances should have beneficial effects on financial markets and on the climate of confidence, while actions taken by several governments to tackle structural rigidities may alleviate some of the negative effects of these rigidities on output.

The marked deceleration of output growth in the United States since mid-1984 reflects developments in all the major components of demand. Of particular significance was the deterioration in the net foreign balance. Over the year to mid-1985, reflecting both the relative cyclical position of the United States and the strength of the dollar, more than 40 percent (net) of the growth of total domestic demand was met from foreign sources. The corresponding figure for the first six quarters of the recovery, when demand was growing more strongly, was less than 20 percent (Table II). With the convergence of rates of demand growth in industrial countries, and on the technical assumption that the exchange rate of the U.S. dollar will be stable over the forecast period (at its value of late July 1985), the dampening influence coming from further adverse shifts in the foreign balance is projected to diminish considerably. In addition, the recent significant decline in interest rates will help to sustain the growth of demand. On this basis, the staff expects output growth to pick up to an annual rate of about 3½ percent in the second half of 1985, compared with only about 1½ percent in the first half. Preliminary indications, such as the “flash” estimate of growth in the third quarter, seem to confirm that activity picked up after the middle of the year. On the assumption of a moderate fiscal tightening in 1986, output growth is expected to slow to a 2¾ percent rate during 1986.

Table II.Stages in U.S. Recovery(Percent change during period; in real terms at annual rate)
Final domestic demand6.74.13.6
Total domestic demand8.83.33.3
Foreign balance1−1.6−1.3−0.2

Changes expressed as percentages of GNP at the beginning of the period.

Changes expressed as percentages of GNP at the beginning of the period.

In Japan, growth of gross national product (GNP) slowed sharply in the first quarter of 1985 because of declines in gross fixed investment and especially exports. In the second quarter, exports and investment rebounded sharply, with real GNP rising at an annual rate of almost 8 percent. On an average annual basis, the growth of GNP is expected to slow from nearly 6 percent in 1984 to about 4½ percent in 1985 and 4 percent in 1986. This slowing would result mainly from the decline in the growth of exports and, to a considerably lesser extent, from the change in the net fiscal position.

The major European countries, despite their close interdependence, have exhibited uneven economic performance in early 1985, varying from relative buoyancy in the United Kingdom following the termination of the miners’ strike in March 1985 to a decline in the real GNP of the Federal Republic of Germany in the first quarter owing to an unusually harsh winter. Apart from these temporary influences, however, the underlying performance of European countries has changed little, and their average rate of growth is expected to remain in the range of 2¼ to 2½ percent over the forecast period.

The United Kingdom is likely to have a somewhat faster growth rate this year than the average for European countries, as a result of both the termination of the miners’ strike and the transitional effects from the introduction of new, less generous, depreciation allowances for business investment that are expected to bring forward investment expenditures. By the same token, capital formation is expected to drop back quite sharply in 1986. In the Federal Republic of Germany, growth is expected to accelerate from just over 2 percent in 1985 to 3 percent in 1986. Investment intentions suggest that outlays on business equipment will grow strongly this year, reflecting a marked improvement in profits. Exports are also expected to continue to support activity. However, private and public consumption have been weak and, largely on account of the harsh winter, construction has declined sharply. As a result, domestic demand is not expected to grow by more than 1 percent in 1985. In 1986, the contribution from exports is likely to decline, but the expected recovery of construction together with planned tax reductions and easier monetary conditions should strengthen domestic demand significantly.

The strategy of the French authorities has been based, since 1983, on an elimination of the external deficit and a reduction in inflation. While the pursuit of these goals has been relatively successful, the immediate consequence on output has been to limit the growth rate that could be achieved. Output in 1985 is projected to rise by only 1 percent—below capacity growth for the sixth consecutive year—with only a modest acceleration expected in 1986. In Italy, the relatively strong recovery of domestic demand in 1984 appears to have continued in the early part of 1985, but it has been accompanied by a sharp weakening of the net foreign balance. The July 1985 devaluation of the lira in the European Monetary System (EMS) should help strengthen the foreign balance, but the associated measures may have an offsetting effect in reducing the growth of domestic demand.

Among other countries, Canada has been experiencing a more rapid growth in output than envisaged earlier, and the staff’s estimates for GNP in 1985 have been revised upward. The smaller European countries are projected to continue to follow a pattern of recovery broadly similar to that of the major European countries, with a somewhat slower export growth in 1985 and 1986 being counterbalanced by faster growth of private consumption and fixed investment.

Aggregation of these projections suggests that the slowing of growth expected in the industrial countries, from almost 5 percent in 1984 to some 3 percent in 1985-86, can be traced to a deceleration in the growth of investment as well as to a reversal in the contribution from stockbuilding. Both of these factors are almost wholly attributable to developments in the United States. Changes in the growth of the other components of demand from 1984 are considerably less important taking the industrial countries as a group (Appendix Table 3).

In the developing countries, new data show that output grew by nearly 4½ percent in 1984, rather than the 3¾ percent reported in the April 1985 World Economic Outlook (Chart 1). For the non-fuel exporting countries, growth was 5½ percent, almost 1¼ percentage points more than reported earlier. This relatively strong performance of developing countries reflected both the strength of recovery in industrial countries in 1984 and the success of their own adjustment efforts. For 1985 and 1986, however, projected growth rates for developing countries have been revised downward by half a percentage point—to about 3½ percent and 4 percent, respectively. The downward revision is most significant for the fuel exporting and the primary product exporting countries, reflecting mainly weak oil and commodity markets. Lower levels of oil export receipts are expected to mean further reductions in government expenditure in several fuel exporting countries. Growth of non-oil output in these countries would therefore remain subdued, while out-put in the oil sector is expected to decline in 1985 before recovering moderately in 1986. In other primary product exporting countries, weak export receipts are affecting domestic incomes more directly, which will tend to retard the growth of domestic demand and output. The rise in real gross domestic product (GDP) for this group of countries is now expected to decelerate from 3½ percent in 1984 to 2¾ percent in 1985, before recovering to 3½ percent in 1986.

Chart 1.Developing Countries: Real GDP, 1980-861

(Changes, in percent)

1For classification of countries, see the Introduction to the Statistical Appendix.

For the exporters of manufactures, by contrast, growth reached 8½ percent in 1984 and is expected to slow only moderately to 6 percent by 1986. Although partly due to the exceptional growth of output in China, the growth disparities between exporters of primary products and exporters of manufactures can also be partly explained by the weakness of commodity prices: whereas the terms of trade of primary product exporters are projected to deteriorate by 3½ percent in 1985, exporters of manufactures are projected to face only a 1 percent deterioration in their terms of trade.

As mentioned above, domestic factors also account for some of the recent and projected divergences in growth rates. Many exporters of manufactures have already made substantial and successful adjustments. As a result, these countries can now support some increases in domestic spending. This is reflected in the 7-8 percent contribution to output growth expected from domestic demand in 1985—an increase relative to earlier projections for 1985 as well as relative to the revised estimate for 1984. On the other hand, several primary product exporting countries with high inflation are still at a much earlier stage in the process of restoring domestic financial stability. The needed adjustments require a shift in the composition of output and demand, that may have the initial effect of lowering growth.

Particular interest attaches to the growth prospects of two groups of countries facing difficult economic situations: the major borrowers among the heavily indebted countries; and the mostly low-income countries of sub-Saharan Africa. The recovery of output in several of the major borrowing countries has been set back by the deceleration in growth in some of their principal export markets; adapting to lower export receipts has led to a downward revision in the growth rates projected in April 1985 for the seven largest borrowing countries—from 4 percent and 5 percent in 1985 and 1986, respectively, to 2¾ percent and 3¾ percent. The sub-Saharan African countries grew at an average rate of only 1 percent during 1983-84 as a result of weak export growth, acute shortages of essential imports (because of foreign exchange constraints), prolonged drought in several countries, and difficulties encountered in implementing domestic economic policy reforms. Projected growth rates in the sub-Saharan African region for 1985 are now a little higher than expected six months ago, reflecting somewhat more favorable supply conditions and the beneficial effect of adjustment policies. Nevertheless, with total output in the region expected to grow at only 3½ percent annually in 1985-86, there will be little room for increases in per capita incomes.

Employment and Unemployment

Not surprisingly, the deceleration of growth in the industrial countries has been accompanied by somewhat slower growth of employment. At the same time, the labor force has continued to expand at a relatively rapid rate, so that the average rate of unemployment has stopped declining (Chart 2). Unemployment in industrial countries, which had fallen from a peak of 8¾ percent of the labor force in 1983 to 8¼ percent in 1984, is projected to decline only marginally in 1985 and 1986 (Appendix Table 4).

Chart 2.Major Industrial Countries: Unemployment, 1965-Second Quarter 19851

(In percent of the labor force)2

1For classification of countries, see the Introduction to the Statistical Appendix.

2 National unemployment rates weighted by the labor force in the respective countries.

3France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

The average measure of unemployment masks a continuing divergence in unemployment rates across industrial countries. In the United States, unemployment was reduced rapidly during 1983 and 1984, falling by some 3 percentage points in the first year and a half of recovery. The slower rate of growth registered since the middle of 1984 has been accompanied by a marked deceleration of productivity gains, reflecting both cyclical factors and the fact that growth has been concentrated in the service sector. As a result, even though real GNP increased by only 2 percent between mid-1984 and mid-1985, total employment rose by some 1.7 percent over the same period. Because of relatively rapid growth of labor supply, however, the rate of unemployment has been reduced only slightly since the middle of 1984 and is not expected to change much during the remainder of the forecast period.

In Europe, by contrast, the recovery was too weak in its early stages to reduce unemployment appreciably. Many countries experienced a cyclical increase in participation rates so that the growth in the labor force tended to outpace the modest increases in employment that were registered. Relative factor costs also seem to have dampened the impact on employment of the rise in output, with enterprises apparently continuing to substitute capital for labor. However, because the gap between real wage costs and productivity that arose in the 1970s has narrowed in recent years (see the discussion of costs and prices below), labor shedding is expected to taper off. To the extent that this occurs, aggregate employment would increase (for the first time in several years), and labor productivity would grow somewhat less in 1985 and 1986 than over the past couple of years. This increase in employment, however, is not expected to be sufficient to prevent unemployment rates from continuing to edge up (Table III).

Table III.Industrial Countries: Labor Force Growth, Productivity, Employment, and Unemployment, 1967-86(Percentage changes from preceding year, except as indicated)
AverageFrom Preceding Year
United States
Labor force2.
Real GNP3.
Unemployment rate4.
Labor force1.
Real GNP8.
Unemployment rate1.
European countries
Labor force0.
Real GNP4.
Unemployment rate2.

Real GNP per employee.

Real GNP per employee.

In the developing countries, the recovery has barely had any impact on labor market conditions. Employment has improved in a few (mainly Asian) countries, that are predominantly exporters of manufactures and that have been well positioned to benefit from the improvement in world trade. However, in most developing countries, particularly African and Latin American countries with high population growth, problems of unemployment and underemployment have probably increased. Reflecting the particularly severe economic contraction in the Western Hemisphere, unemployment rates in seven countries for which data are available were about 4 percentage points higher in 1984 than in 1980. Finally, in the fuel exporting countries of the Middle East, the decline in oil revenues continues to lead to significant reductions in the number of expatriate workers.

Costs and Prices

The decline in inflation that was a key feature of developments in industrial countries from 1980 to 1983 appears to have largely run its course (Chart 3 and Appendix Tables 7 and 8). Nevertheless, in only a few countries have price increases accelerated, and in some countries that previously had above-average inflation rates further progress has been made in stabilizing prices. For the industrial countries as a group, the average increase in the GNP deflator, which reached a peak of over 9 percent in 1980, had fallen back to about 4 percent in 1984; this measure of inflation is expected to recede slightly further to 3¾ percent in 1986.

Chart 3.Major Industrial Countries: Consumer Prices, 1979-August 19851

(Changes, in percent)2

1For classification of countries, see the Introduction to the Statistical Appendix.

2Average of consumer price index for three months ended in month indicated over corresponding three months a year earlier.

3The figures for the second half of 1979 and the first half of 1980 were affected by the approximately 3¾ percentage point increase in value-added tax rates, with effect from June 18, 1979.

Although there are no immediate signs of a revival of inflation, the risks of renewed price pressures appear to have increased. While the anti-inflationary policy setting, together with wage moderation and subdued commodity prices, will continue to dampen inflationary pressures in many countries, the growth of labor productivity is expected to decelerate for cyclical reasons as recovery matures. Thus, even though nominal wage increases are projected to remain relatively stable, the contribution of labor costs to inflation will probably pick up. In manufacturing, for example, unit labor costs in the industrial countries are expected to rise by 2¼ percent in 1985, after having been stable in 1984. This factor will limit the scope both for further reductions in inflation rates and for further increases in profit shares. Moreover, where monetary policy is being implemented flexibly in order to take account of shifts in velocity, there is a danger that an overshooting of monetary targets could be interpreted as giving lower priority to inflation control, and could thus provoke cost-push pressures.

Weak commodity prices are an important element in the projected continuation of a good inflation performance in industrial countries. Commodity price projections for 1985 and 1986 have been revised downward significantly, compared with the April 1985 World Economic Outlook. During the first two years of the current recovery, the overall index of primary commodity prices rose steadily (Chart 4), reversing most of its decline since 1980 in real terms (that is, relative to average prices of manufactured exports from industrial countries). However, since the middle of 1984, commodity prices have weakened noticeably and in the first seven months of 1985 averaged 7½ percent below their level of a year earlier in SDR terms. The decline was particularly pronounced for agricultural raw materials and tropical beverage crops, reflecting a combination of ample supplies, slackening growth in industrial countries, and cautious stockbuilding because of high real interest rates. The prices of metals have increased slightly since the beginning of 1985 but remain extremely weak in real terms, having recovered much less than agricultural commodity prices in 1983-84. The projected strengthening of growth in the major industrial countries in the second half of 1985, which is expected to be sustained into 1986, should help to stabilize and then increase commodity prices. Nevertheless, relative to unit values of exports of manufactures, these prices would be 9 percent lower in 1985 than in 1984 and would decline by a further 4½ percent in 1986.

Chart 4.Non-Oil Primary Commodity Prices, 1980-Second Quarter 1985

(Indices expressed in terms of U.S. dollars, 1980 = 100)

1Nominal commodity prices deflated by the United Nations index of prices of manufactured exports of developed countries.

In the developing countries, inflation remains a serious problem and only modest progress is expected over the forecast period. For 1985, the weighted average inflation rate in developing countries is estimated at 39 percent, somewhat higher than in 1984 and also above the rate projected in April 1985. It is important to note, however, that this inflation rate is strongly influenced by price developments in a small group of countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, and Israel) where annual inflation rates have surged to three-, four-, and even five-digit rates. The weighted average inflation rate in these five countries, taken together, rose from 66 percent in 1978 to some 250 percent in 1984 and is projected to be 280 percent in 1985. Excluding these five countries, inflation in developing countries is expected to decline marginally, from a rate of 15½ percent in 1984 to an estimated 15 percent in 1985. The median estimate of inflation suggests a stabilization of inflation in 1985 at some 10 percent. The projections for 1986 point to a decline in the weighted average inflation rate to 28 percent (and a decline in the median rate to 8 percent). These projected improvements reflect in part the impact of intensified adjustment in the context of Fund-supported programs. These programs are expected to contribute to sharp reductions in rates of price increase in several high-inflation countries, and to smaller declines in inflation in a wide range of other countries.

International Payments, Exchange Rates, and Debt

Reflecting the weakness of output trends in the first half of 1985, world trade is now expected to expand by some 3½ percent in volume terms in the current year, compared with a growth of 5½ percent forecast in the April 1985 World Economic Outlook and an increase of 8½ percent recorded in 1984 (Appendix Table 19). Some acceleration is expected in 1986, with the volume of trade tentatively projected to expand by about 4¼ percent. World trade prices are also expected to be lower than foreseen earlier. Prices of non-oil primary commodities, in particular, are expected to be much weaker, reflecting mainly reductions that took place in the first eight months of 1985. For 1985 as a whole the index of commodity prices (in U.S. dollars) is projected to be 11¼ percent lower than in 1984, while manufactured prices would decline by much less (2 percent). Oil prices fell by 2 percent in 1984, and, on the assumption of no further change from early August, would be a further 4 percent lower, on average, in 1985. The terms of trade of developing countries are projected to deteriorate by about 2 percent, more than reversing the modest improvement that occurred in 1984.

While the lower prices would result in a substantial reduction in the growth of developing countries’ export receipts, both from earlier projections and from the rate achieved in 1984, relatively little change is expected in the pattern of global current account balances (Appendix Table 29). Largely as a result of financing constraints, developing countries are expected to scale back imports by almost as much as exports, so that their current account deficit is expected to increase only slightly, to about 7 percent of exports of goods and services in 1985-86, compared with 6 percent in 1984. There has also been little change in the projected current account position of industrial countries, compared with the staffs estimates in the April 1985 World Economic Outlook. A widening of the industrial countries’ combined deficit continues to be foreseen for 1985, with a substantial increase in the U.S. deficit outweighing a smaller rise in the combined surplus of other industrial countries.

A feature of the current account forecasts just mentioned is that the continued rise in the aggregate current account deficit of the industrial countries as a group (from $35 billion in 1984 to $52 billion in 1985, excluding official transfers) does not have as its counterpart an improved payments position for developing countries (Appendix Table 29). As a result, there is a further enlargement in the global discrepancy on current account. This enlarged discrepancy is already apparent in data becoming available for the first half of 1985 and creates significant uncertainties in analyzing underlying trends. A partial reversal of this development is built into the projections for 1986.

Exchange Market and Current Account Developments in Industrial Countries

The most noteworthy feature of exchange market developments for the major currencies during the first half of 1985 was the sharp appreciation and subsequent depreciation of the U.S. dollar (Chart 5). During 1984 the dollar had appreciated by 12 percent in nominal effective terms; from the end of 1984 to late February 1985 it rose by a further 8.5 percent. After declining sharply in March the dollar remained stable for the next three months, before sharply depreciating again in July. In the first quarter of 1985 the real effective value of the U.S. dollar—calculated on the basis of normalized unit labor costs—rose to its highest level since the Smithsonian agreement of 1971. In real terms, the dollar was some 43 percent above its average for the decade 1974-83 and 57 percent above its trough in the third quarter of 1980.

Chart 5.Indices of Monthly Average U.S. Dollar and Effective Exchange Rates, January 1980-August 1985

(Average value for 1974-83 = 100)

By the end of August 1985, the U.S. dollar had approximately returned to its year-earlier levels in both real and nominal terms. The dollar’s depreciation since the end of February has been associated with lower interest rates in the United States and with a decline in interest rate differentials favoring U.S. dollar-denominated assets. The decline in U.S. interest rates reflected the slowdown in the U.S. recovery and a more rapid growth of narrowly defined money in the United States. In the United States, Ml was outside the Federal Reserve’s target range throughout the first seven months of 1985, while monetary growth rates in Japan and the Federal Republic of Germany were more in line with official targets or projections.

The strengthening of sterling was a second feature of exchange market developments through the end of August. After falling in value throughout 1984, sterling began to recover late in February 1985. From February to August sterling appreciated by over 26 percent against the U.S. dollar, by 14 percent in nominal effective terms and by about 16 percent in real effective terms. By the end of August, the real effective value of sterling was some 21 percent above its average for the period 1974-83. A sharp rise in U.K. interest rates at the end of January opened up a large interest rate differential in favor of sterling and was a significant factor in the appreciation. Resolution of the labor dispute between the National Coal Board and the miners’ union, and relatively strong growth in output since the final quarter of 1984 also appear to have been contributing factors. Nevertheless, sterling remains sensitive to market expectations of oil prices, as was demonstrated in early August 1985.

A third feature of exchange market developments for the major currencies during the first half of 1985 was a substantial increase in the variability of bilateral exchange rates relative to recent years. This variability was particularly noticeable in the U.S. dollar-sterling rate; relatively large variability in the U.S.-U.K. short-term interest rate differentials, shifting prospects for relative growth rates, and oil price uncertainty may have been contributing factors. The currencies of other industrial countries moved less than sterling, both against the dollar and in effective terms. In effective terms, the deutsche mark appreciated by 5½ percent over the first eight months of 1985. The Japanese yen appreciated by only 1 percent in effective terms over the same period, despite a short-term interest differential that moved in favor of yen and against dollar-denominated assets between March and June of 1985, and despite Japan’s continuing current account surplus. The Canadian dollar fell by about 4½ percent in both real and nominal effective terms through the end of August, but its real value nevertheless remained slightly above the average for 1974-83.

The relative absence of exchange market tensions within the EMS throughout 1984 extended into the first half of 1985. However, the Italian lira continued to weaken over the first half of 1985, and in July the EMS currencies were realigned for the first time since March 1983. The central rate of the lira was devalued by 6 percent vis-à-vis the ECU, while the other EMS currencies were revalued by 2 percent. After the realignment, the EMS currencies remained within their margins with little sign of strain.

The major feature of the current account positions of industrial countries during early 1985 was the continued divergence between the large deficit of the United States and the large surplus of Japan (Chart 6). This divergence, which had emerged in 1982 and increased in 1983 and 1984, continued into 1985 as the U.S. and Japanese current account imbalances widened further both in absolute terms and as proportions of GNP. Preliminary estimates show that the U.S. current account deficit (including official transfers) was 3.1 percent of GNP in the first quarter of 1985, compared with 2.8 percent during the year 1984. Japan’s current account surplus in the first quarter of 1985 was 3.2 percent of GNP, against 2.8 percent during the preceding year. Within Europe, current account positions also diverged, but by smaller amounts. In the Federal Republic of Germany, the current surplus was 1.5 percent of GNP in the first quarter of 1985 (compared with 1 percent in 1984), while the Italian deficit rose to nearly 2 percent of GNP in the last quarter of 1984 and 0.8 percent for the year as a whole.

Chart 6.Major Industrial Countries: Payments Balances on Current Account, Including Official Transfers, 1980-Second Quarter 19851

(In percent of GNP)

1Based on seasonally adjusted data.

The U.S. merchandise trade deficit almost doubled in 1984 from the previous year’s level. Imports increased by 25 percent in value terms, almost entirely because of strong volume growth; exports rose by almost 10 percent in value, again mainly reflecting growth in volume. Current data indicate that the value of U.S. exports grew modestly in early 1985, while imports continued to increase at a high rate, albeit less rapidly than in 1984. The growth of final domestic demand in the United States remained strong relative to that in other industrial countries during the last quarter of 1984 and the first quarter of 1985; this cyclical strength and the real appreciation of the U.S. dollar throughout 1984 and early 1985 were again the main factors accounting for the deterioration in the U.S. current account position. The effects of import compression in some heavily indebted developing countries have also played a role.

The growing U.S. current account deficit since 1982 has led to a marked change in the international investment position of the United States. Until 1985, the United States was a creditor to the rest of the world, holding net claims of some $150 billion as recently as 1982; the country is estimated to have become a net debtor during the first half of 1985. In 1984 and early 1985, lending abroad by U.S. banks declined sharply, while both direct and portfolio financial inflows to the United States rose strongly.

The trade and current account projections for 1985 and 1986 reflect several revisions in underlying conditions from those assumed in the April 1985 World Economic Outlook. The new projections are based on the assumption, mentioned earlier, that nominal exchange rates among major currencies will remain during the forecast period at their levels of July 22, 1985 (Table IV). This represents a depreciation of the real effective value of the U.S. dollar of 2 percent compared with that implied by the April assumptions. Oil prices are assumed to remain at the levels prevailing in early August, which implies a small reduction in the price compared with that assumed in the April estimates. In addition, non-oil commodity prices are now expected to be some 9 percent lower in 1986 than was assumed in the previous World Economic Outlook. This largely reflects price declines that have already taken place.

Table IV.Exchange Rate Assumptions—Current World Economic Outlook Compared with April 1985 World Economic Outlook
OctoberAprilPercent Change
World Economic OutlookWorld Economic OutlookFrom April World Economic Outlook
Bilateral Exchange Rates
(Domestic currency per U.S. dollar)
Germany, Fed. Rep. of2.872.994.0
United Kingdom0.720.8011.9
Real Effective Rates1
(1980 = 100)
United States146.9149.8−1.9
Germany, Fed.

Rep. of
United Kingdom104.693.112.3

Calculated on the basis of normalized unit labor costs.

Calculated on the basis of normalized unit labor costs.

On the basis of these revised assumptions and projections, the volume of industrial country exports is now expected to grow more slowly than was envisaged six months ago, while the projected growth of import volumes is substantially unchanged. Specifically, the volume of industrial country exports is now projected to grow at 3¾ percent in 1985 and 4 percent in 1986, as compared with the 5¼ percent in each year estimated in April. These figures mainly reflect large downward revisions in projected growth rates of Japanese and U.S. exports. Imports of industrial countries, in volume terms, are projected to grow by about 6 percent in 1985 and by 4¾ percent in 1986. The terms of trade, which had been expected to remain unchanged in 1985, are now expected to improve by 1 percent, reflecting lower-than-expected commodity prices. A further improvement of 1 percent in the industrial countries’ terms of trade is projected for 1986.

The projected current account positions of the individual countries are little changed from those envisaged six months ago. The U.S. current account deficit (including official transfers) for 1985 is now projected at $130 billion, rising to $148 billion in 1986, while Japan’s surplus is expected to increase to $44 billion and $55 billion in 1985 and 1986, respectively. The surplus of the Federal Republic of Germany would also rise significantly, reaching $12 billion in 1985, and $16 billion in 1986. Other industrial countries have payments positions that are closer to balance and little change has been made to the staff’s earlier projections. The most notable development is in the current account position of Italy, which is expected to be in deficit by about $8 billion in 1986, despite the recent adjustment to the exchange rate for the lira.

Balance of Payments and Debt of Developing Countries

The revised balance of payments estimates for the developing countries do not point to any major changes in the overall picture of adjustment and recovery described in previous reports. The firmer estimates now available for 1984 suggest an even more pronounced adjustment effort by most developing countries between 1982 and 1984. Moreover, the projections again see a stabilization of most deficits in 1985 and 1986 at about their 1984 level.

The prospects for most developing countries are somewhat obscured in the aggregate statistics by a major revision in the projections for China. Reflecting its rapid growth of domestic demand and output, China is now expected to register a substantial current account deficit in 1985 and 1986. (Earlier estimates had been for only a gradual decline in the current account surplus.) This revision accounts for all of the widening of the combined developing country deficit in 1985 and 1986. Excluding China, the current account deficit of developing countries is expected to remain roughly stable in 1985 and 1986, but at a level some $4 billion lower than projected six months ago.

This broadly unchanged picture of stable and, by past standards, unusually small current account deficits in relation to export earnings is, however, the byproduct of gross flows that give rise to more concern. The slowing of the recovery in industrial countries was always expected to lead to a softening in the pace of export expansion among developing countries. However, the export performance of the latter countries is now expected to be considerably weaker than projected earlier. For the group as a whole, export volume growth is expected to slow from 8½ percent in 1984 to ¼ percent in 1985. Moreover, the deceleration in export volume growth has been accompanied by a further weakening of commodity prices. As noted above, primary commodity prices other than oil are now expected to decline by 11¼ percent in U.S. dollar terms in 1985, compared with the 2¼ percent drop projected at the beginning of the year; oil prices are also somewhat weaker. As a result, the terms of trade of developing countries are projected to deteriorate by 2 percent in 1985 and by a further 2¼ percent in 1986. Given the prevailing inability or unwillingness of these countries to increase external borrowing, the reduced real purchasing power of their exports has resulted in a scaling back of projected import growth. For the group as a whole, import volumes are now projected to remain unchanged (instead of increasing by 4¼ percent) in 1985 and to increase by 2¾ percent (instead of 5½ percent) in 1986. These disappointing overall developments conceal even less satisfactory developments for particular groups of developing countries, notably the primary product exporting countries, and especially those that export oil.

The countries most adversely affected by recent developments have been the fuel exporting countries, whose oil exports have proved to be markedly weaker than expected at the beginning of the year. Overall, these countries’ export earnings, which had been expected to rise by almost 1 percent in U.S. dollar terms, are now projected to decline by 9½ percent in 1985 (and even this outcome is based on the assumption that oil prices will not fall below the levels prevailing in late July 1985). Accordingly, fuel exporting countries have been obliged to reduce their imports further, which in volume terms are now expected to decline by 7½ percent in 1985, instead of rising by 2½ percent as projected earlier in the year. With import prices also being weaker than foreseen earlier, and some lowering of interest rates payable on external debt, the combined current account deficit of this group of countries in 1985-86 is now expected to be slightly smaller than projected six months ago ($8-9 billion, compared with $9-11 billion).

For developing countries outside the fuel exporting group, forecasts of trade flows have also generally been revised downward. However, the revisions are not as large, and these countries are expected, for the most part, to continue the recovery process. The purchasing power of their exports—a measure that takes account of developments in both export volumes and terms of trade—is expected to rise by 2¼ percent in 1985 and by 5 percent in 1986, compared with increases of 7¼ percent in both years foreseen in the April 1985 World Economic Outlook. The projected increases are expected to permit a modest expansion in import volumes (of about 3 percent in 1985 and 3¾ percent in 1986).

A perspective on recent trade volume developments for the non-fuel exporting countries is provided by Chart 7, which plots rates of change in their real exports to, and imports from, industrial countries. Export volumes, which on the measure used in the chart had been rising at some 20 percent per annum in the last three quarters of 1983, slowed to about 8 percent per annum during 1984. On the other hand, import volumes, which had been curtailed sharply from mid-1981 to early 1983, firmed progressively during the rest of 1983 and in 1984 to reach increases of about 8 percent per annum. More recently, however, both exports and imports have slowed to growth rates of about 4 percent.

Chart 7.Volume of Trade of Non-Fuel Exporting Developing Countries with Industrial Countries, 1975-Second Quarter 19851

(Changes, in percent)2

1Trade volumes are estimated on the basis of value data reported by industrial countries deflated by unit value data reported by exporters. For classification of countries, see the Introduction to the Statistical Appendix.

2 Changes, in percent, of two quarters ending in the period indicated over the preceding two quarters; seasonally adjusted annual rates.

3Partly estimated.

Among the non-fuel exporting countries, those most adversely affected by the developments of the past six months have been countries that export predominantly primary products. These countries have been especially hard hit by the faltering of growth in the industrial countries in the first half of 1985. On average, export growth prospects for 1985 have been revised downward by 4 percentage points and the expected deterioration of their terms of trade has been increased by over 2 percentage points. Partly as a result, imports into these countries, which had been expected to rise by an already modest 2¼ percent in 1985, are now projected to decline by 3 percent in real terms so as to keep the current account deficit roughly unchanged at $27 billion. This contrasts sharply with prospects for the exporters of manufactures, whose collective current account had already moved into surplus in 1984. These countries’ terms of trade are projected to deteriorate by only 1 percent and their exports and imports to remain buoyant, in volume terms, although less so than in the staffs earlier projections.

The financing situation of the capital importing developing countries is little changed from that reported six months ago.1 This situation remains characterized by a sharply reduced financing requirement that is almost wholly covered by financing from sources other than private creditors (Chart 8 and Appendix Table 38).2 Moreover, the small amount of private lending that is taking place is more than offset by increases in reserves in the form of deposits in Eurobanks. However, despite the improvement in the overall financing situation of developing countries suggested by these developments, the situation of many countries within the group remains problematic. Many countries with unsatisfactory domestic situations are operating at the outer limits of their foreign exchange constraints and are unable to attract additional resources. A number of other countries which used to be in this position have adjusted to the point that they now have somewhat more room for maneuver. In some of these countries, however, the earlier inability to attract external financing has been replaced by an unwillingness to borrow from private creditors at prevailing market rates, and even a desire to reduce existing levels of indebtedness.

Chart 8.Capital Importing Developing Countries: Sources and Uses of External Finance, 1978-861

(In billions of U.S. dollars)

1For classification of countries, see the Introduction to the Statistical Appendix.

2Presumed to be mainly capital flight.

3Mainly from banks.

4Official transfers, direct investment, SDR allocations, valuation adjustments, and gold monetization.

The changes in financing patterns from those shown six months ago are small and, for the most part, simply accentuate features of the situation that were highlighted at that time. The overall financing requirement of market borrowers is projected to decline even more than expected in the April 1985 World Economic Outlook, with their combined current account deficit estimated at $3-4 billion annually in 1985-86. The position of the countries that rely on financing from official creditors, on the other hand, remains just as weak as in the earlier analysis.

As to the sources of finance, the main change is a downward revision of net external borrowing by about $6 billion in 1985. Roughly half of that amount reflects the fact that some flows, notably to Israel and a number of African countries, are now expected to be disbursed on grant terms, and are now classified as official transfers instead of as loans. The downward revision to the forecast for net borrowing by capital importing countries results in a small reduction in the projected growth of debt (to under 4 percent annually in 1985-86). Despite this revision, the debt-export ratio is expected to rise steeply in 1985 (to 157 percent from 151 percent in 1984) because of the much larger downward revision to export earnings. With the resumption of export earnings growth projected for the balance of the forecast period, the debt ratio is expected to return to its 1984 level in 1986 (Appendix Table 48).

Despite reductions in international interest rates and in the growth of indebtedness, debt service payments of the capital importing developing countries have been revised upward by $5½ billion for 1984 and by $6 billion for 1985 (Appendix Table 49). The debt service ratio has also been revised upwards, by almost 1 percentage point in 1984 and by 2½ percentage points in 1985, when it is expected to reach 25½ percent. Some of the increase in debt service payments in 1984-85 is attributable to early repayments of debt by some Asian countries. However, a large part of the revision is in interest payments, in part reflecting the more complete information on outstanding debt and debt service obligations that has emerged out of debt restructuring negotiations. The further rise in 1985 is largely due to the weakness of export earnings.

As noted earlier, the situations of individual countries vary considerably, and some continue to experience severe debt-servicing problems. Debt rescheduling is expected to remain at high levels—$30 billion in 1985 and $28½ billion in 1986—although somewhat lower than the record $36 billion rescheduled in 1984. (These large sums reflect, for the most part, the impact on future debt service payments of multiyear rescheduling agreements.) As a proportion of exports of capital importing developing countries, debt rescheduling will decline from 6½ percent in 1984 to an estimated 4¾ percent in 1986. This comparison, however, understates the significance of debt relief to the countries which experienced recent debt-servicing problems. For these countries, debt rescheduling amounted to the equivalent of 18 percent of exports in 1984 and, though expected to decline, will still represent 13½ percent of exports in 1986 (Chart 9).

Chart 9.Capital Importing Developing Countries—Selected Groups: Debt Service Payments and Reschedulings, 1983-861

(In percent of exports of goods and services)

1For classification of countries, see the Introduction to the Statistical Appendix. Debt service comprises actual interest payments on all debt and actual amortization of long-term debt.

Stance of Policies

Industrial Countries

Economic strategy in the industrial countries continues to be based on medium-term objectives and to stress the establishment of stable underlying financial conditions, together with structural reforms aimed at improving the functioning of markets. While the avowed aims of policy are fairly uniform across countries, implementation has been more varied, whether because of domestic political constraints, policy slippages, or differences in economic circumstances.

As regards monetary policy, most major countries have sought for some years to control inflation and inflationary expectations by pursuing target growth rates for monetary aggregates that have been gradually reduced over time. While the pursuit of monetary targets continues to be an important intermediate objective, a number of central banks have stressed the need for flexibility in the face of shifts in underlying velocity. As the monetary authorities in countries affected by such shifts have acquired greater credibility in their commitment to control inflation, they have felt more freedom to frame monetary policy in the light of developments in a range of indicators, including the behavior of interest rates and exchange rates, trends in a variety of monetary aggregates, and the rate of growth of nominal GNP.

An example of this flexibility is provided by recent developments in the United States. While both M2 and M3 were relatively close to their target ranges in the first half of 1985, the growth of Ml was allowed to exceed its target range, expanding at an annual rate of 12 percent during the first six months of 1985. The broader credit aggregate monitored by the monetary authorities (total debt of the domestic nonfinancial sector) also grew above the upper limit of its target range. These developments, together with moderate growth of output, have been associated with a sharp reduction in U.S. interest rates. The Federal Reserve reduced its discount rate in May by ½ of 1 percent, and by mid-1985 U.S. short-term rates reached their lowest levels since 1978. In mid-July, referring to the effects caused by financial innovation, it announced a revised target range for Ml of 3 percent to 8 percent for the second half of 1985, using the higher-than-targeted second-quarter level of Ml as the base. Increases in Ml during the summer months continued to exceed the revised target range (Chart 10). Long-term interest rates have fallen by less than short-term rates but have also come down considerably over the past year. Reflecting these declines, and a relatively stable inflation performance, real interest rates have been reduced significantly, though they remain high in historical comparison (Chart 11).

Chart 10.Six Major Industrial Countries: Target Ranges and Growth of Targeted Aggregates, 1984-85

(Reported at end of policy period)
(Reported at end of policy period)

1Since May 1985, the performance of the targeted aggregates is evaluated in terms of rolling twelve-month growth rates rather than annualized rates of growth from the start of the target period.

Chart 11.Five Major Industrial Countries: Interest Rates, 1980-August 1985

(In percent)

1Monthly averages of daily rates on money market instruments of about 90 days’ maturity.

2Monthly averages of daily or weekly yields on government bonds, with maturities ranging from 7 years for Japan to 20 years for the United States and the United Kingdom.

3The United States, Japan, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the United Kingdom.

4Short-term interest rates deflated by a weighted average of the increase in the private final domestic demand deflator in the current and the following two quarters; for the most recent periods, staff projections of the deflator are used.

5Long-term interest rates deflated as indicated in footnote 4.

In the other major countries, interest rates generally moved by less than in the United States in the first half of 1985. This resulted in a substantial reduction of short-term interest rate differentials against the U.S. dollar, which contributed to the significant depreciation of the dollar from its peak in February. The relatively modest initial response of interest rates outside the United States to declines in yields on dollar-denominated assets does not, however, appear to reflect a deliberate tightening of monetary policy (except perhaps in the United Kingdom). Rates of monetary growth in Europe and Japan have generally been somewhat more rapid than in 1984 and, where monetary targets are in existence, have been close to or above the upper limit of target ranges.

Exchange rate considerations may have played a role in the reluctance of some countries to permit a sharp decline in interest rates. In Japan, for example, interest rates changed very little, on balance, during the first half of 1985, so that the differential with U.S. dollar interest rates narrowed significantly. In the Federal Republic of Germany the Lombard rate was raised from 5½ percent to 6 percent in February but this was a technical adjustment not intended to put upward pressure on interest rates. More recently, short-term money market rates have declined, to significantly lower levels than at the beginning of the year. In August, the discount rate was reduced from 4½ to 4 percent and the Lombard rate was reduced back to 5½ percent. In France, the downward movement in both short-term and long-term interest rates has continued. These interest rate movements, however, have broadly matched the decline in inflation so that real interest rates did not change noticeably. In January, the system of direct credit control was replaced by a more flexible system that will be enforced through non-interest-bearing reserve requirements and is regarded as a first step toward greater reliance on market forces.

Weakness of the pound led to a sharp rise in short-term interest rates in the United Kingdom in early 1985. Despite a subsequent strengthening of the currency, interest rates were allowed to ease only slightly, in part because of the rapid growth of sterling M3, which has tended to overshoot its target range by a substantial margin for some time. An apparent revival of inflationary pressures has also militated against a reduction in rates. In Italy, whereas monetary aggregates had decelerated in 1984, the first half of 1985 has seen a re-acceleration in the growth of the money supply, largely owing to the overshooting of the budget deficit. Long-term interest rates in Italy have tended to edge upward. In Canada, interest rates have recently moved with U.S. rates, reflecting mainly exchange rate considerations. The differential between Canadian and U.S. short-term rates, which rose somewhat during 1984, remained at the higher level in the first half of 1985.

Fiscal policy in industrial countries continues to be framed in the light of medium-term objectives and to be influenced by a variety of macroeconomic and microeconomic considerations. Governments have sought to curb the growth of aggregate public spending, to reduce budget deficits, and to restructure patterns of expenditure and taxation so as to enhance efficiency and promote growth. Success in the implementation of these broad objectives, however, has continued to be as uneven in 1985 as in earlier years.

At the macroeconomic level, a feature of fiscal policy in 1985, as in the past several years, is the contrast between the expansionary thrust of policy in the United States and the average contractionary impulse in the other major countries, taken together. In the United States, higher expenditures are the determining factor behind the expected rise in the deficit, as tax revenues in 1985 are expected to grow at least as fast as GNP. In Japan, France, and the Federal Republic of Germany fiscal policy in 1985 is expected to be noticeably contractionary, reflecting mainly expenditure curbs in Germany and France, and revenue growing faster than GNP in Japan. The situation in Italy and the United Kingdom is more difficult to interpret since sales of public sector assets, and loan transactions within the public sector, complicate the assessment of the impact of fiscal developments on spending elsewhere in the economy. In both countries, however, the cyclically adjusted cash deficit of the central government is expected to widen in relation to GDP in 1985.

Taking the seven major countries together, the thrust of fiscal policy at the general government level is expected to be roughly neutral (a slight stimulus was implied in the projections made in the April 1985 World Economic Outlook). This suggests a somewhat more restrained fiscal stance than prevailed in 1984, when the expansionary impulse of fiscal policy was estimated to amount to some ½ of 1 percent of GNP. The combined fiscal deficit (at the general government level) of the seven largest countries would thus remain just under 4 percent of their combined GNP. (A slightly different picture is given when central government transactions are considered. The combined cash position of central governments was favorably affected in 1984 by reduced loans to other public entities in Italy and the United Kingdom. The nonrecurrence of these items on a similar scale results in a rise in the cash deficit in 1985 and an increase in stimulus on this measure.) Among smaller industrial countries, recent shifts in fiscal position have generally been in the direction of restraint. Many of these countries (including Belgium, Finland, and New Zealand) have been prepared to strengthen their fiscal accounts through tax increases.

Prospects for 1986 are for somewhat more convergence in aggregate fiscal positions. In the United States, on the assumption that expenditure cuts of some $40 billion (relative to the “current services” estimate) are implemented as a result of the recent Congressional budget resolution, the impact of fiscal policy at the central government level would become moderately contractionary after four years of strong stimulus. On the basis of the growth rate and interest rates forecast by the staff, the cash deficit of the federal government would decline by about $20 billion. Outside the United States, the principal change foreseen for 1986 is a strong movement toward fiscal consolidation in Canada and a moderate withdrawal of stimulus in Japan. European countries would have, on balance, a roughly neutral fiscal stance, with a positive impulse in the Federal Republic of Germany and Italy offsetting a moderate further move toward fiscal consolidation in France and the United Kingdom. Japan is expected to have a further significant strengthening of its fiscal position. Indeed, on the staff’s projections, the Japanese general government deficit, relative to GNP, would have moved from being the highest among the five largest countries in 1979-80 to being next to the lowest in 1986. Japan has made less progress, however, in strengthening the budgetary position of the central government. At over 5 percent of GNP, the central government deficit in Japan remains one of the highest among the major industrial countries.

As noted above, fiscal policies are also aimed at reducing government spending and taxation relative to GNP, and at restructuring government finances so as to improve incentives for the private sector and enhance economic efficiency. An example of supply-oriented fiscal policies is the proposal to simplify the U.S. tax system through limiting tax deductions, broadening the tax base, and lowering tax rates. The removal of market distortions created by the existing tax system is intended to improve efficiency and thus to have a favorable impact on growth. In the United Kingdom, the authorities have sought to rectify a perceived bias in the tax system that favored the use of capital relative to labor and thus aggravated unemployment. Finally, in some other countries, for example, France, the authorities have seen employment taxes as a serious impediment to fuller utilization of available labor and aim to reduce them.

Besides fiscal reform, attention is also being given in industrial countries to other kinds of structural policies. These have taken a variety of forms, depending on political circumstances and institutional constraints, as well as the particular structural rigidities perceived to be important in individual countries. Deregulation and greater reliance on market forces have been seen in a number of countries as important to improving economic performance. Financial market deregulation, for example, is continuing in several countries, including Japan, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the United Kingdom. Governments, especially those in Europe, have also been seeking to reduce subsidies and phase out support for declining industries, while seeking to protect displaced workers through retraining schemes. The high level of minimum wages has been recognized as a barrier to the employment of younger or less skilled workers, and in some countries (including Belgium, France, and Spain) the rate of increase in minimum wages has been reduced, or else devices have been sought to permit certain categories of jobseekers to obtain employment at wages below the legal minimum. Restrictions on the release of redundant labor have been relaxed in some countries to make employers more willing to take on new labor. More generally, a variety of devices has been used to try and reduce the cost of labor to employers. These have ranged from incomes policy aimed at restraining wage settlements to the reduction of social and other charges levied on employers on the basis of their labor costs.

By their nature, structural policies are relatively specific in their incidence and do not have major effects on overall economic performance over the short term. Nevertheless, their continued implementation should, despite the many rigidities that remain, improve prospects for growth of output and employment as their effects feed through into the general economic climate.

Developing Countries

In developing countries, the stance of financial policies is much as described in the April 1985 World Economic Outlook. That report highlighted the rather widespread reductions in central government fiscal deficits that had taken place in 1984 and were projected to continue in 1985. Revised estimates suggest that these reductions, many of which are being undertaken in the context of Fund-supported programs, will lower the weighted average of central government deficits in developing countries from a peak level of 5½ percent of GDP in 1983 to 3½ percent in 1985. The corresponding reduction for the median deficit would be from 7 percent in 1983 to 5½ percent in 1985. Fiscal improvements have been particularly significant in Africa, Europe, and the Western Hemisphere. (In Asian countries, deficits had generally been lower and there was thus less need for substantial reductions.)

The improved fiscal performance has facilitated a reduction in the growth of monetary aggregates, although the overall picture in this respect is obscured by the inclusion of certain countries that have very rapid inflation rates. Using median estimates to help moderate this problem, the median rate of money growth has been declining for some years, and is projected to fall further in 1985.

Supply-side policies and exchange rate policies are also of key importance for economic performance in developing countries. Supply-side policies cannot, of course, be readily quantified and aggregated across groups of countries, but most developing countries have been making continued efforts to bring about structural reforms. Many countries, particularly those implementing programs supported by Fund resources, have in the past several months: raised regulated domestic producer prices of export crops in real terms; raised real interest rates; restructured their tariff systems to reduce the bias in effective rates of protection; liberalized interest rate, trade, and exchange rate regimes; and relaxed price controls in retail trade.

With regard to exchange rate policies, the corrections to real exchange rates brought about in the wake of the debt crisis of 1982 were sustained over the period to mid-1985. The staff estimates that, on a weighted average basis, real exchange rates of non-fuel exporting developing countries declined by about 3 percent over the first five months of 1985. A noteworthy development was the 7-8 percent decline in the real effective exchange rate of African countries, a group that had experienced difficulties in adjusting its exchange rates to maintain external competitiveness.

    Other Resources Citing This Publication