The sharp decline in global stock markets last week was in large part attributed by the financial media to economic warnings issued by the Federal Reserve and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The reports spawned a rash of recession forecasts as markets tumbled. A closer look at the press releases of these institutions, however, reveals a far less ominous outlook of continued albeit more modest growth.
Financial markets were well aware before last week that the U.S. and European economies were weakening and that there was a rising risk of further deterioration. It was the Fed’s language that startled investors. Their September 21 policy statement asserted that “there are significant downside risks to the economic outlook, including strains in global financial markets. ”This was a sterner warning than the Fed’s August 9 alert that “downside risks to the economic outlook have increased.”
Investors evidently overlooked the positive growth forecast in the Fed’s statement: “The Committee continues to expect some pickup in the pace of recovery over coming quarters” and anticipates a gradual reduction in unemployment. Indeed, three members of the ten-member Committee believed the economy was not in imminent peril and voted against the Fed’s new “operation twist” policy on the grounds that they “did not support additional accommodation at this time.”
In its semi-annual global economic report released last week, the IMF alarmed investors with the opening statement: “The global economy is in a dangerous new phase. Global activity has weakened and become even more uneven, confidence has fallen sharply recently, and downside risks are growing.” In the introduction, Executive Counsellor Olivier Blanchard pointed out that “fear of the unknown is high” and concluded: “In light of the weak baseline and high downside risks, strong policy action is of the essence.”
The actual growth projections in the IMF forecast are more encouraging. Global GDP growth is expected to be 4.0% in 2011 with an additional 4.0% in 2012. The U.S. will avoid recession with 1.5% growth in 2011 and 1.8% growth in 2012. The Euro Area is projected to slip but remain positive: 1.6% growth this year will slide to 1.1% in 2012. The emerging and developing economies will continue to drive global growth with gains of 6.4% in 2011 and 6.1% in 2012. China and India will maintain their torrid pace with 2012 gains of 9.0% and 7.5%.
Supporting these forecasts of continued GDP growth this and next year is the consensus outlook of economists polled by The Economist. The U.S. is expected to grow 1.6% in 2011 followed by a modest rise of 2.0% in 2012. Euro Area growth will remain positive but slump from 1.7% this year to 1.0% next year. The widening gap between the developed and the emerging economies, so pronounced in the IMF forecast, is also reflected in the consensus outlook: China is predicted to slow only modestly from 9.0% to 8.6%, whereas economists foresee India’s GDP will rise from 7.9% to 8.2%.
In review, the broadly accepted, probable scenario projected by professional economists is that the U.S. and Euro Area will muddle through with the support of continued strong growth in the emerging economies. Even though the economists do not believe recession is likely, they acknowledge that the global economic outlook has dimmed, the risk of a further deterioration has risen, and a further reduction in estimates may be necessary. All eyes will focus on the policy makers to take decisive action to raise consumer and investor confidence and restore healthy growth.