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Recovery Strengthening, but Much Work Remains

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I want to take a moment today to remember our colleague Wabel Abdallah, who was our resident representative in Afghanistan and who, as many of you know, was killed in the terrorist attack in Kabul on Friday. We are mourning a colleague, a friend to many of us, above all a dedicated civil servant who represented the best the Fund has to offer, and gave his life in the line of duty, helping the Afghan people. Our hearts go out to his family and to the many victims of this brutal attack.

Let me now turn to our update of the World Economic Outlook and distill its three main messages:

First, the recovery is strengthening.  We forecast world growth to increase from 3% in 2013 to 3.7% in 2014.  We forecast growth in advanced economies to increase from 1.3% in 2013 to 2.2% in 2014.  And we forecast growth in emerging market and developing economies to increase from 4.7% in 2013 to 5.1% in 2014.

Second, this recovery was largely anticipated.  We have revised our forecast for world growth in 2014 by just 0.1% relative to our October forecast.  The basic reason behind the stronger recovery is that the brakes to the recovery are progressively being loosened.  The drag from fiscal consolidation is diminishing.  The financial system is slowly healing.  Uncertainty is decreasing.

Third, it is still a weak and uneven recovery.  Among advanced economies, it is stronger in the US than in Europe, stronger in the Euro core than in Southern Europe.  In most advanced economies, unemployment remains much too high.  And downside risks remain.

Tour d’horizon

With these remarks in mind, let me take you on the quick tour of the world.

United States: US growth appears increasingly solid.  Private demand is strong.  As a result of the December budget agreement, fiscal consolidation, which weighted on growth in 2013, will be more limited in 2014.  These factors lead us to forecast 2.8% growth for 2014, compared to 1.9% in 2013.   While monetary policy remains very accommodative, the focus is increasingly turning to monetary policy exit, and we expect the policy rate to rise in 2015.

Japan:  Japan grew at 1.7% in 2013, and we forecast the same growth rate for 2014.   This is good news.  But this growth has come largely from fiscal stimulus and from exports.  For growth to be sustained, consumption and investment have to take the relay.    And the Japanese government will continue to face the challenge of achieving enough fiscal consolidation to reassure debt holders while not slowing down the recovery, a difficult challenge

Europe: Conditions are increasingly favorable in the UK and the Euro core.  Public debts are on sustainable paths, and fiscal consolidation is, rightly, slowing down.   Credit conditions are favorable.  This leads us to predict growth of 2.4% for the UK, 1.6% for Germany, although only 0.9% for France, where confidence is still low.

Southern Europe:  Southern Europe continues to be the more worrisome part of the world economy.  We forecast positive growth for 2014, but this growth is fragile.  On the one hand, exports are strong.  On the other hand, internal demand is weak, suffering from the loops between weak activity, weak banks, weak firms, and the need for fiscal consolidation.   Sustained growth will require cutting those loops, and relying both on external and internal demand.

Emerging market and developing economies: We forecast that growth in emerging market and developing economies, while lower than in the past, will remain high.  On the one hand, these countries will benefit from higher advanced growth in advanced economies.  On the other, as US monetary policy normalizes, they will face tighter financial conditions.  We believe that, for most countries, the first effect will dominate the second.    On the internal front, perhaps the main challenge is faced by China, which needs to contain the building of risks in the financial sector without excessively slowing growth, a delicate balancing act.

Risks to outlook

First, as the recovery takes hold in advanced economies, a main challenge will be to normalize monetary policy.  While some of this expected normalization has already been priced in both long rates and exchange rates, we can expect complex and sometimes disruptive capital movements across countries for some time to come.   In that environment, the evidence from last year is that emerging market economies with weak macro frameworks may be most affected.  What we need to decrease this risk is both clear communication by advanced economies’ central banks, and stronger domestic policies in those emerging market economies under stress.

Second, while our baseline forecasts are for low but positive inflation in the Euro area, the risk is that inflation turns into deflation.   There is nothing magical about the number zero---when inflation turns to deflation. But the lower the inflation rate, and a fortiori the larger the deflation rate, the more dangerous it is for the Euro recovery.  Deflation means higher real interest rates, higher public and private debt burdens, lower demand, lower growth, and further deflation pressure. To avoid that risk, accommodative monetary policy by the ECB remains of the essence.  And so is the strengthening of banks’ balance sheets.  In this respect, carrying out the balance sheet assessment and stress test process now under way may be the most important short term task facing the Euro area today.

In short, recovery is indeed strengthening.  But much work remains to be done.