The World Bank’s Empty Shaft Prospecting
The World Bank’s January Global Economic Prospects issued before the coronavirus surge found “marked deceleration” in global growth last year affecting over half of emerging economies, with the average around 3.5% on weak manufacturing. This year’s projection is only 4%, half a point below previous forecasts, as trade will only expand 2% despite the US-China first phase deal. “Subdued” financial market sentiment will continue and flatten commodity prices, and even with monetary easing about one-third of the developing country universe can expect lower growth. In the medium term low income countries will set the fastest pace at 5.5%, but per-capita income and poverty levels will barely budge. High debt and lagging productivity block anti-shock capacity as traditional policy space is thin. Food and fuel cost controls mask actual inflation, and fiscal deficits limit countercyclical spending as tax bases are unable to support investment and social safety nets. Business climate improvement and technology integration are unfinished agendas, as weather emergencies and energy needs demand “green” solutions, according to the publication. China’s expansion will dip under 6% for the first time in three decades, with total debt over 250% of GDP. Both exports and domestic demand are down, and budget and credit measures cannot reverse the trend. The drag contributes to Asian cross-border goods and services slowdown, with construction and tourism softening for the latter. Protectionist levies affected over $1 trillion in world commerce last year, overshadowing a few new bilateral and multilateral free trade accords most notably a Pan-African one.
Over $10 trillion or one-quarter of global debt has negative yields, spurring emerging market borrowing at narrow spreads although lower-rated sovereigns may not benefit. Most currencies continue to depreciate against the dollar, and FDI slipped in all regions through the first half of 2019 outstripped by remittances. Oil was off 10% to $60/barrel, and agricultural and metals values also fell. Commodity exporters grew just 1.5%, half the figure for importers led in Asia by China and the Philippines. Almost the entire pickup this year will come from a handful of major markets, including Brazil, India, Mexico, Russia and Turkey. Extreme poverty defined as living on less than two dollars a day dropped by a billion people in recent decades, but double that number have no basic sanitation access. The infrastructure elements of the Sustainable Development Goals call for unlikely annual investment over 5% of GDP for poor and middle-income economies, with Africa especially at the bottom as conflict and penury concentrate there, the report warns. On purchasing power parity basis China is now one-fifth of world output and integral in auto and other supply chains at risk from further tariff and geopolitical struggles. Emerging market credit booms have been mostly for consumption, and contagion may center on common foreign investor ownership of local bonds. Social unrest and climate change have economic and financial implications across the asset class yet to be calculated, and China’s excessive leverage can best be tackled over time that may not be available. Almost half of developing markets have insufficient reserves, and macro-prudential policies often stifle banking and securities modernization. Output per worker is less than one-fifth the advance economy result, with a century required to close half the gap as another grim reading.