IMF projects slowest global growth since the crisis amid trade, geopolitical tension

Brian Cheung
Reporter

The International Monetary Fund projects that the global economy will grow by its slowest pace since the financial crisis, blaming trade standoffs and rising geopolitical tensions.

In its biannual World Economic Outlook, the IMF said a bounce-back in emerging market and development economies should lift global growth in 2020. But the fund’s economists cautioned that major economies like the U.S., Japan, and China are still expected to slow further.

On Tuesday morning, the IMF released its October World Economic Outlook, which downgraded its expectations for growth in 2019 to 3%, down from 3.2% as of its last update in July. In 2020, the IMF projects growth of 3.4%, a slight revision downward from 3.5% as forecast in July.

The IMF has gradually reduced its outlook on global growth in recent quarters, now warning that the world faces a “synchronized slowdown,” in part due to trade tensions between the two largest economies on the planet. IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath said Tuesday that the U.S.-China trade tension will cumulatively reduce the level of global GDP by 0.8% by 2020.

“We welcome any step to de-escalate tensions and to roll back recent trade measures, particularly if they can provide a path towards a comprehensive and lasting deal,” Gopinath said.

Geopolitical problems outside of the trade war pushed the IMF to downgrade GDP projections in many regions around the world. IMF staff lowered GDP forecasts for the Middle East because of tighter U.S. sanctions on Iran and the impact of a weak global oil market on Saudi Arabia. The IMF also lowered expectations in Latin America due to mining supply disruptions in Brazil and weak investment and consumption in Mexico.

Among the large countries, the IMF projects sub-1% GDP growth for 2019 in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Turkey, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia.

The IMF’s biggest downward revisions included advanced economies in Asia (Hong Kong, Korea, and Singapore), citing their exposure to slowing growth in China and “spillovers” from the U.S.–China trade tensions.

For the U.S., the IMF expects growth of 2.4% in 2019 as a result of a two-year budget deal and rate cuts from the Federal Reserve. That forecast is more optimistic than those within the Fed; Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren told Yahoo Finance in early October that he expects GDP growth of 1.7% for the second half of the year, which would suggest full-year 2019 growth of about 2.1%.

For China, the IMF is projecting 6.1% GDP growth in 2019.

Bringing back growth

The IMF said that easier monetary policy around the world has helped prop up the global economy, estimating that global growth would have been lower by 0.5 percentage points if monetary policy had not provided stimulus.

But Gopinath warns that only fiscal policy can directly solve the problems facing the global economy, whether temporary (trade negotiations) or permanent (low productivity and aging demographics).

“If growth were to deteriorate more severely, an internationally coordinated fiscal response, tailored to country circumstances, may be required,” Gopinath said.

For the more structural problems, the IMF is challenging countries to target their own economic needs and enact fiscal policies that would address them. Gopinath, for example, recommended that Germany and the Netherlands move to invest in social and infrastructure capital while borrowing rates are low.

Although trade is in focus amid the global slowdown, the IMF says fiscal policy should be mindful of the longer-term challenges ahead. One problem that the IMF identified: automation and its distortive effects on labor markets.

IMF researchers led by John Bluedorn found that “lagging regions” in advanced economies are at-risk of having major industries upended by automation, leaving them without jobs and no new industries to turn to without needing new job training. Bluedorn’s team extended this question and asked if the automation effects were larger than the trade shock of China’s rise as a major cog in the global supply chain.

“What we see is that the trade shocks on average don’t have these long lasting effects,” Bluedown said in an interview. “Technology shocks do have these long lasting effects.”

The IMF report kicks off the organization’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., scheduled to take place through Oct. 20.

Brian Cheung is a reporter covering the banking industry and the intersection of finance and policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter @bcheungz.

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