Press Release: Asia Recovering Fast, but Faces a "New World," IMF Says

October 29, 2009

Press Release No. 09/372
October 29, 2009

Asia is rebounding rapidly from the depth of the global crisis, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said today in its latest report on the region. According to the Regional Economic Outlook (REO) for Asia and the Pacific, released today in Seoul, Asia’s growth is forecast to accelerate to 5¾ percent in 2010 from 2¾ percent in 2009, both higher than previously projected.

“The primary driver of Asia’s recovery has been a progressive return towards normalcy following the abrupt collapse in global trade and finance at the end of 2008,” the report said. “Just as the U.S. downturn triggered an outsized fall in Asia’s GDP because international trade and finance froze, now their normalization is generating an outsized Asian upturn.” This development confirms that Asia has not decoupled from the rest of the world, the REO noted. In fact, Asia’s fortunes remain closely tied to that of the global economy.

The other key driver of Asia’s recovery, according to the report, has been the region’s rapid and forceful policy response. This reaction was made possible by Asia’s strong initial conditions: fiscal positions were sounder, monetary policies more credible, and corporate and bank balance sheets sturdier than in the past. These conditions have given policymakers the space to cut interest rates sharply and adopt large fiscal packages, helping to sustain overall domestic demand.

What lies ahead? The REO notes that global conditions are expected to continue to improve gradually in 2010. According to the IMF’s latest forecasts, output in the large G7 economies is forecast to grow by 1¼ percent next year, recouping only half the contraction estimated for 2009, because private demand in these countries remains constrained by the legacy of the crisis. Consequently, overseas demand for Asia’s products will remain subdued, keeping the region’s growth well below the 6 2/3 percent average recorded over the past decade.

In this environment, policymakers will face two major challenges, the report said. In the near term, they will need to manage a well integrated balancing act, providing support to the economy until the recovery is sufficiently robust and self-sustaining while ensuring that the support does not ignite inflationary pressures or concerns over fiscal sustainability.

Over the medium term, policymakers will need to find a new momentum to return to sustained, rapid growth in a new global environment of likely softer G7 demand. In this “new world”, Asia’s longer term growth prospects may be determined by its ability to recalibrate the drivers of growth to allow domestic sources to play a more dynamic role. To be successful, rebalancing will require greater exchange rate flexibility and structural reforms that will allow for a smooth reallocation of resources across the economy.

In the first of two analytic chapters, the REO explores how Japan emerged from its banking crisis in the 1990s to draw lessons for the current global recovery. “How Japan Recovered From Its Banking Crisis: Possible Lessons for Today” finds that a sustainable recovery in Japan only took hold when spillovers from a favorable external environment reinvigorated private domestic demand and the financial and corporate sector problems at the heart of the crisis were adequately addressed. Japan’s experience suggests that “green shoots” do not guarantee a recovery, implying the need to be cautious on the outlook today, and that addressing financial fragilities in the advanced economies is crucial for securing a durable recovery.

Chapter III, “Corporate Savings and Rebalancing in Asia”, analyzes the sharp increase in corporate savings in Asia over the past few years even as investment has remained subdued. This unusual combination poses a question: why didn’t corporations pay out their profits as dividends, if they didn’t have suitable investment projects? The chapter concludes that resolving this issue requires further structural reform. Greater financial development could reduce companies’ need to retain earnings for precautionary reasons, while improvements in corporate governance could ensure that managers retain earnings only for investments in profitable projects.


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