The World Bank’s Economic Prospect Pratfalls

The World Bank’s June Global Economic Prospects analysis predicted 4 percent emerging market growth this year after 2016’s 3.5 percent “stagnation,” on broad commodity export and domestic demand rebound, but warned of longer-term structural productivity and trade drags for an overall “soft” recovery. Fiscal sustainability is often an issue, while currencies have strengthened with inflation in retreat. Household balance sheets are stretched in big natural resource countries like Brazil, Russia and Kazakhstan, and energy lags metal and farm sales performance. Sub-Sahara Africa has floundered with 2.5 percent growth forecast on additional political, security and weather challenges. In Francophone West Africa infrastructure has been the main driver, and Senegal re-tapped the Eurobond market in May. Current account deficits remain high in Rwanda and Uganda as they also struggle with refugee inflows. Exchange rates have collapsed in the Democratic Republic of Congo as President Kabila clings to power despite promised elections, and in Mozambique with external debt default following an inflation spike above 20 percent in the first quarter. While China and India slow other major developing economies including Mexico and Turkey will pick up the slack, but “headwinds” linger against further momentum ranging from lack of value chain integration to governance and institutional weakness. By region Europe-Central Asia and MENA will grow 2 percent, and Latin America/Caribbean just 1 percent this year, with the latter dampened by US policy fallout from the new administration’s pledged import and immigration curbs. Budget stimulus in industrial nations should be a net benefit, but “downside” protectionist and geopolitical risks will outweigh it, according to the Bank. The Middle East is at the perennial center of conflict worries, but North Korea is now in the mix and food and water scarcity cut across wide swathes of Africa. Tighter and more volatile global finance could loom with monetary policy changes not just in the North America, Europe and Japan but in China as well with the current deleveraging push with shadow banking’s squeeze. Dollar appreciation could aggravate corporate foreign currency borrowing as domestic credit backstops are not as readily available, according to the IIF’s latest lending condition survey with the still below 50 index. Oil prices could again slide with shale gas competition and non-observance of OPEC pacts. The earlier output boom from capital accumulation has not been followed by innovation and technology strides, and demographic pressures have also started to limit potential, the review cautions.

China is singled out for reform urgency with progress in state enterprise, tax, local government debt, and securities market consolidation amid lingering corporate and financial vulnerabilities. Private sector discipline and hard borrowing constraints could go further, and land and urban migration shifts can boost efficiency and employment. Emerging economies generally need increased banking system capital and liquidity, and public debt maturities should be extended and sovereign stabilization funds replenished. Labor and education overhaul and higher fixed capital formation with better property rights should be priorities and bilateral and regional commercial deepening in the absence of global agreements, such as the EU’s recent partnerships with CIS and Central American counterparts may be the future model. These accords can slash poverty but require supporting competition and capital market rules for more favorable prospects, the Bank insists.

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