Global Economy at Turning Point, Says World Bank

January 14, 2014

Growth outlook sensitive to US taper in 2014

WASHINGTON, January 14, 2014 – The world economy is projected to strengthen this year, with growth picking up in developing countries and high-income economies appearing to be finally turning the corner five years after the global financial crisis, says the World Bank’s newly-released Global Economic Prospects (GEP) report.

The firming of growth in developing countries is being bolstered by an acceleration in high-income countries and continued strong growth in China. However, growth prospects remain vulnerable to headwinds from rising global interest rates and potential volatility in capital flows, as the United States Federal Reserve Bank begins withdrawing its massive monetary stimulus.

“Growth appears to be strengthening in both high-income and developing countries, but downside risks continue to threaten the global economic recovery,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “The performance of advanced economies is gaining momentum, and this should support stronger growth in developing countries in the months ahead. Still, to accelerate poverty reduction, developing nations will need to adopt structural reforms that promote job creation, strengthen financial systems, and shore up social safety nets.”

Global GDP growth is projected to firm from 2.4 percent in 2013 to 3.2 percent this year, stabilizing at 3.4 percent and 3.5 percent in 2015 and 2016[1], respectively, with much of the initial acceleration reflecting stronger growth in high-income economies.

Growth in developing countries will pick up from 4.8 percent in 2013 to a slower than previously expected 5.3 percent this year, 5.5 percent in 2015 and 5.7 percent in 2016. While the pace is about 2.2 percentage points lower than during the boom period of 2003-07, the slower growth is not a cause for concern. Almost all of the difference reflects a cooling off of the unsustainable turbo-charged pre-crisis growth, with very little due to an easing of growth potential in developing countries. Moreover, even this slower growth represents a substantial (60 percent) improvement compared with growth in the 1980s and early 1990s.

For high-income countries, the drag on growth from fiscal consolidation and policy uncertainty will ease, helping to boost economic growth from 1.3 percent in 2013 to 2.2 percent this year, stabilizing at 2.4 percent for each of 2015 and 2016. Amongst high-income economies, the recovery is most advanced in the US, with GDP expanding for 10 quarters now. The US economy is projected to grow by 2.8 percent this year (from 1.8 percent in 2013), firming to 2.9 and 3.0 percent in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Growth in the Euro Area, after two years of contraction, is projected to be 1.1 percent this year, and 1.4 and 1.5 percent in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Global economic indicators show improvement. But one does not have to be especially astute to see there are dangers that lurk beneath the surface. The Euro Area is out of recession but per capita incomes are still declining in several countries. We expect developing country growth to rise above 5 percent in 2014, with some countries doing considerably better, with Angola at 8 percent, China 7.7 percent, and India at 6.2 percent. But it is important to avoid policy stasis so that the green shoots don't turn into brown stubble,” said Kaushik Basu, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist at the World Bank.

Developing countries face counterbalancing forces from high-income countries. The strengthening in high-income countries will boost demand for developing country exports, on the one hand, while rising interest rates will dampen capital flows, on the other. The report projects global trade to grow from an estimated 3.1 percent in 2013 to 4.6 percent this year and 5.1 percent in each of 2015 and 2016.

However, weaker commodity prices will continue to temper trade revenues. Between their early-2011 peaks and recent lows in November 2013, the real prices of energy and food have declined by 9 and 13 percent, respectively, while those of metals and minerals have fallen by 30 percent. These downward pressures on commodity prices are expected to persist, in part reflecting additional supply.

“The strengthening recovery in high-income countries is very welcome, but it brings with it risks of disruption as monetary policy tightens. To date, the gradual withdrawal of quantitative easing has gone smoothly. However, if interest rates rise too rapidly, capital flows to developing countries could fall by 50 percent or more for several months – potentially provoking a crisis in some of the more vulnerable economies,” said Andrew Burns, Acting Director of the Development Prospects Group and lead author of the report.

Private capital inflows to developing countries remain sensitive to global financial conditions. As high-income monetary policy normalizes in response to stronger growth, global interest rates are projected to slowly rise. The impact of an orderly tightening of financial conditions on developing-country investment and growth is expected to be modest, with capital flows to developing countries projected to ease from about 4.6 percent of developing country GDP in 2013 to 4.1 percent in 2016. However, should the adjustment be disorderly, as it was in response to speculation about when a taper might begin during the spring and summer of 2013, interest rates could rise much more quickly. Depending on the severity of the market reaction, capital flows to developing countries could be cut by 50 percent or more for several months. In such a scenario, countries that have large current account deficits, large proportions of external debt and those that have had big credit expansions in recent years would be among the most vulnerable.

The report points out that, although the main tail risks that have preoccupied the global economy over the past five years have subsided, the underlying challenges remain. Moreover, while developing countries responded to the global financial crisis by deploying fiscal and monetary stimuli, the scope for such actions has declined, with government budgets and current account balances in the red in most countries.

Policy makers need to give thought now to how they would respond to a significant tightening of global financing conditions. Countries with adequate policy buffers and investor confidence may be able to rely on market mechanisms, counter-cyclical macroeconomic and prudential policies to deal with a decline in flows. In other cases, where the scope for maneuvering is more limited, countries may be forced to tighten fiscal policy to reduce financing needs or raise interest rates to incite additional inflows. Where adequate foreign reserves exist, these can be used to moderate the pace of exchange rate adjustments, while a loosening of capital inflow regulation and incentives for foreign direct investment might help smooth adjustment. Finally, by improving the longer term outlook, credible reform agendas can go a long way towards boosting investor and market confidence. This could set in motion a virtuous cycle of stronger investment, including foreign investment, and output growth over the medium term.

The full report and accompanying datasets are available at

Regional Highlights:

Growth in East Asia & the Pacific eased for the third year to an estimated 7.2 percent in 2013, reflecting slower growth in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, where weak commodity revenues, and policy tightening to address domestic overheating cut into activity. Domestic vulnerabilities generated during the years of expansionary policies remain a damper for the region. GDP in China is projected to stay flat in 2014 at 7.7 percent, slowing to 7.5 percent for the next two years, reflecting deleveraging and less reliance on policy-induced investment. The region is vulnerable to risks of disorderly unwinding in Chinese investment and abrupt tightening in global financing conditions. Commodity exporters are also vulnerable to sharper than expected declines in commodity prices.

Growth in developing Europe & Central Asia strengthened in 2013 to an estimated 3.4 percent, bolstered by improved exports to high-income Europe and continued strength in energy-exporting Central Asian countries. With strong trade and financial links with high-income Europe, the Central and Eastern European economies will benefit most from the recovery but the growth impetus from stronger exports will be partly offset by weaker domestic demand due to ongoing banking sector restructuring, tighter international financial conditions, and ongoing or planned fiscal consolidation in several countries. The mix will keep growth stable at 3.5 percent in 2014, gradually lifting to 3.7 and 3.8 percent in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Risks include a return to weakness in the Euro Area or Russia, disorderly adjustment to tighter global financial conditions, and further sharp declines in commodity prices.

Subdued global trade, tighter financing conditions and less supportive commodity markets in 2013, have left many countries in Latin America & Caribbean struggling with relatively weak growth. Domestic demand growth has moderated, notably in Brazil, although activity is starting to recover in Mexico and exports are rebounding in Central America, partly supported by the Panama Canal expansion. Regional growth is projected to pick up from 2.9 percent in 2014, to 3.2 percent in 2015, before accelerating to 3.7 percent by 2016. Strong export growth, along with steady consumption growth, is expected to nudge Brazil’s growth to 3.7 percent in 2016. Hinging on the pickup in the United States, Mexico is expected to grow by 3.4 percent in 2014, accelerating to 4.2 percent in 2016. Downside risks for the region include a disorderly jump in global interest rates and a prolonged and deeper slump in commodity prices.

The developing economies of the Middle East & North Africa remain depressed. Political turmoil in Egypt, stalemate in Tunisia, and an escalation of the civil war in Syria, with spillovers to neighboring Lebanon and Jordan, have weakened activity in the oil importing countries. At the same time, security setbacks, strikes, infrastructure problems, and in the case of Iran, international sanctions, have negatively affected oil exporting countries. Regional growth, which contracted by 0.1 percent in 2013, is expected to remain weak with the outlook shrouded in uncertainty. Aggregate growth for the region is projected at 2.8 percent in 2014, firming to 3.3 in 2015 and 3.6 percent in 2016, well below the region’s potential.

Growth in South Asia expanded a modest 4.6 percent in 2013, reflecting weakness in India amid high inflation, and current account and government deficits. More recently, regional exports have recovered, because of strengthening external demand and the earlier depreciation of the Indian rupee. Regional growth is projected to improve to 5.7 percent in 2014, rising to 6.7 percent in 2016, led mainly by recovering import demand by high-income economies and regional investment. The projected pickup, however, will depend on macroeconomic stability, sustained policy reforms, and progress in reducing supply side constraints. India’s growth is projected to rise to over 6 percent in FY2014-15, increasing to 7.1 percent by FY2016-17. The main risks to the outlook are fiscal and policy reforms going off-track; uncertainties related to elections in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India; entrenchment of inflation expectations; and a disorderly adjustment of capital flows in response to US tapering.

Economic growth picked up in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2013, supported by strong resource-based investments. Real GDP growth strengthened to an estimated 4.7 percent for the region. Excluding South Africa, the average growth for the rest of the region was 6.0 percent. The recovery during the first half of 2013 was weak among oil exporters (Angola, Gabon, Nigeria), while industrial output in South Africa contracted in Q3. Robust domestic demand, relatively resilient FDI flows and lower inflation should help support regional growth of about 5.3 percent in 2014, 5.4 percent in 2015, firming to 5.5 percent in 2016. The region is relatively insensitive to rising global interest rates, but very vulnerable to sharper than projected declines in commodity prices and domestic risks related to weather shocks to local harvests and food prices, political strife, security risks in northern Nigeria, and pirate attacks along the gulf of Guinea, which could raise shipment costs and disrupt regional trade.

[1] Using 2005 purchasing power parity weights, global growth would be 3.7, 3.9 and 4.0 percent in 2014. 2015 and 2016, respectively.


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