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Global economy to edge up to 3.1 percent in 2018 but future potential growth a concern

Global economy to edge up to 3.1 percent in 2018 but future potential growth a concern
Photo credit: Andrew Kasuku

10 Jan 2018

Current slack in global economy expected to fade

The World Bank forecasts global economic growth to edge up to 3.1 percent in 2018 after a much stronger-than-expected 2017, as the recovery in investment, manufacturing, and trade continues, and as commodity-exporting developing economies benefit from firming commodity prices.

However, this is largely seen as a short-term upswing. Over the longer term, slowing potential growth – a measure of how fast an economy can expand when labor and capital are fully employed – puts at risk gains in improving living standards and reducing poverty around the world, the World Bank warns in its January 2018 Global Economic Prospects.

Growth in advanced economies is expected to moderate slightly to 2.2 percent in 2018, as central banks gradually remove their post-crisis accommodation and as an upturn in investment levels off. Growth in emerging market and developing economies as a whole is projected to strengthen to 4.5 percent in 2018, as activity in commodity exporters continues to recover.

“The broad-based recovery in global growth is encouraging, but this is no time for complacency,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “This is a great opportunity to invest in human and physical capital. If policy makers around the world focus on these key investments, they can increase their countries’ productivity, boost workforce participation, and move closer to the goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.”

2018 is on track to be the first year since the financial crisis that the global economy will be operating at or near full capacity. With slack in the economy expected to dissipate, policymakers will need to look beyond monetary and fiscal policy tools to stimulate short-term growth and consider initiatives more likely to boost long-term potential.

The slowdown in potential growth is the result of years of softening productivity growth, weak investment, and the aging of the global labor force. The deceleration is widespread, affecting economies that account for more than 65 percent of global GDP. Without efforts to revitalize potential growth, the decline may extend into the next decade, and could slow average global growth by a quarter percentage point and average growth in emerging market and developing economies by half a percentage point over that period.

“An analysis of the drivers of the slowdown in potential growth underscores the point that we are not helpless in the face of it,” said World Bank Senior Director for Development Economics, Shantayanan Devarajan. “Reforms that promote quality education and health, as well as improve infrastructure services could substantially bolster potential growth, especially among emerging market and developing economies. Yet, some of these reforms will be resisted by politically powerful groups, which is why making this information about their development benefits transparent and publicly available is so important.”

Risks to the outlook remain tilted to the downside. An abrupt tightening of global financing conditions could derail the expansion. Escalating trade restrictions and rising geopolitical tensions could dampen confidence and activity. On the other hand, stronger-than-anticipated growth could also materialize in several large economies, further extending the global upturn.

“With unemployment rates returning to pre-crisis levels and the economic picture brighter in advanced economies and the developing world alike, policymakers will need to consider new approaches to sustain the growth momentum,” said World Bank Development Economics Prospects Director Ayhan Kose. “Specifically, productivity-enhancing reforms have become urgent as the pressures on potential growth from aging populations intensify.”

In addition to exploring developments at the global and regional levels, the January 2018 Global Economic Prospects takes a close look at the outlook for potential growth in each of the six global regions; lessons from the 2014-2016 oil price collapse; and the connection between higher levels of skill and education and lower levels of inequality in emerging market and developing economies.


Global Economic Prospects: Sub-Saharan Africa

Recent developments

Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to have rebounded to 2.4 percent in 2017, after slowing sharply to 1.3 percent in 2016. The rise reflects a modest recovery in Angola, Nigeria, and South Africa – the region’s largest economies – supported by an improvement in commodity prices, favorable global financing conditions, and slowing inflation that helped to lift household demand. However, growth was slightly weaker than expected, as the region is still experiencing negative per capita income growth, weak investment, and a decline in productivity growth.

Although oil producers in the region continue to deal with the effects of the earlier oil price collapse, growth rebounded moderately in metals-exporting countries, reflecting an uptick in mining output amid rising metals prices, while growth in non-resource-intensive countries – largely agricultural exporters – was broadly stable, supported by infrastructure investment and crop production.

Fiscal deficits narrowed slightly in 2017, the result of large spending cuts in some oil exporters. However, government debt continued to rise across the region compared to 2016, as countries borrowed to finance public investment.

Outlook

Growth in the region is projected to continue to rise to 3.2 percent in 2018 and to 3.5 in 2019, on the back of firming commodity prices and gradually strengthening domestic demand. However, growth will remain below pre-crisis averages, partly reflecting a struggle in larger economies to boost private investment.

South Africa is forecast to tick up to 1.1 percent growth in 2018 from 0.8 percent in 2017. The recovery is expected to solidify, as improving business sentiment supports a modest rise in investment. However, policy uncertainty is likely to remain and could slow needed structural reforms. Nigeria is anticipated to accelerate to a 2.5 percent rate this year from 1 percent growth in the year just ended. An upward revision to Nigeria’s forecast is based on expectation that oil production will continue to recover and that reforms will lift non-oil sector growth. Growth in Angola is expected to increase to 1.6 percent in 2018, as a successful political transition improves the possibility of reforms that ameliorate the business environment.

Non-resource intensive countries are expected to expand at a solid pace, helped by robust investment growth. Côte d’Ivoire is forecast to expand by 7.2 percent in 2018; Senegal by 6.9 percent; Ethiopia by 8.2 percent; Tanzania by 6.8 percent; and Kenya by 5.5 percent as inflation eases.

However, given demographic and investment trends across the region over the longer term, structural reforms would be needed to boost potential growth over the next decade.

Risks

The regional outlook is subject to external and domestic risks, and is tilted to the downside. Although stronger-than-expected activity in the United States and Euro Area could push regional growth up due to greater exports and increased mining and infrastructure investment, an abrupt slowdown in China could generate adverse spillovers to the region through lower-than-expected commodity prices.

On the domestic front, excessive external borrowing without forward-looking budget management could worsen debt dynamics and hurt growth in many countries. A steeper-than-anticipated tightening of global financing conditions could also lead to a reversal in capital flows to the region. Protracted political and policy uncertainty could further hurt confidence and deter investment in some countries.

Rising government debt levels highlight the importance of fiscal adjustment to contain fiscal deficits and maintain financial stability. Structural policies – including education, health, labor market, governance, and business climate reforms – could help bolster potential growth.


Regional Summaries

East Asia and PacificGrowth in the region is forecast to slip to 6.2 percent in 2018 from an estimated 6.4 percent in 2017. A structural slowdown in China is seen offsetting a modest cyclical pickup in the rest of the region. Risks to the outlook have become more balanced. Stronger-than-expected growth among advanced economies could lead to faster-than-anticipated growth in the region. On the downside, rising geopolitical tension, increased global protectionism, an unexpectedly abrupt tightening of global financial conditions, and steeper-than-expected slowdown in major economies, including China, pose downside risks to the regional outlook. Growth in China is forecast to moderate to 6.4 percent in 2018 from 6.8 percent in 2017. Indonesia is forecast to accelerate to 5.3 percent in 2018 from 5.1 percent in 2017.

Europe and Central Asia: Growth in the region is anticipated to ease to 2.9 percent in 2018 from an estimated 3.7 percent in 2017. Recovery is expected to continue in the east of the region, driven by commodity exporting economies, counterbalanced by a gradual slowdown in the western part as a result of moderating economic activity in the Euro Area. Increased policy uncertainty and a renewed decline in oil prices present risks of lower-than-anticipated growth. Russia is expected to expand by 1.7 percent in 2018, unchanged from its estimated growth rate in 2017. Turkey is projected to moderate to 3.5 percent this year from 6.7 percent in the year just ended.

Latin America and the Caribbean: Growth in the region is projected to advance to 2 percent in 2018, from an estimated 0.9 percent in 2017. Growth momentum is expected to gather as private consumption and investment strengthen, particularly among commodity-exporting economies. Additional policy uncertainty, natural disasters, a rise in trade protectionism in the United States, or further deterioration of domestic fiscal conditions could throw growth off course. Brazil is expected to pick up to 2 percent in 2018, from an estimated 1 percent in 2017. Mexico is anticipated to accelerate to 2.1 percent this year, from an estimated 1.9 percent last year.

Middle East and North Africa: Growth in the region is expected to jump to 3 percent in 2018 from 1.8 percent in 2017. Reforms across the region are expected to gain momentum, fiscal constraints are expected to ease as oil prices stay firm, and improved tourism is anticipated to support growth among economies that are not dependent on oil exports. Continued geopolitical conflicts and oil price weakness could set back economic growth. Growth in Saudi Arabia is forecast to accelerate to 1.2 percent in 2018 from 0.3 percent in 2017, while growth is anticipated to pick up to 4.5 percent in the Arab Republic of Egypt in FY 2018 from 4.2 percent last year.

South Asia: Growth in the region is forecast to accelerate to 6.9 percent in 2018 from an estimated 6.5 percent in 2017. Consumption is expected to stay strong, exports are anticipated to recover, and investment is on track to revive as a result of policy reforms and infrastructure upgrades. Setbacks to reform efforts, natural disasters, or an upswing in global financial volatility could slow growth. India is expected to pick up to a 7.3 percent rate in fiscal year 2018/19, which begins April 1, from 6.7 percent in FY 2017/18. Pakistan is anticipated to accelerate to 5.8 percent in FY 2018/19, which begins July 1, from 5.5 percent in FY 2017/18.