Typical street scene in Santa Ana, El Salvador. (Photo: iStock)

Typical street scene in Santa Ana, El Salvador. (Photo: iStock)

IMF Survey: World Faces Deepening Crisis, IMF Chief Warns

January 21, 2009

  • IMF head says economic prospects even worse than previous projections
  • Warns of risk of social unrest in some hard-hit countries
  • Says more governments expected to access IMF lending

The world faces a deepening economic crisis, with the slowdown in advanced economies now spreading to major emerging markets such as China, India, and Brazil, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, IMF Managing Director, warned.

World Faces Deepening Crisis, IMF Chief Warns

IMF urges fiscal stimulus through increased government spending, tax cuts to revive consumer demand (photo: Frances Roberts/Newscom)


He said the IMF would significantly adjust downward its forecast for world growth for 2009 when the 185-member international institution announces a revised assessment of the global economy on January 28. In an update released last November, the IMF had said that advanced economies would see a contraction in output in 2009—the first since World War II—but that growth in major emerging markets would still enable the global economy to advance by 2.2 percent in 2009.

Deteriorating outlook

But Strauss-Kahn said in an interview with the BBC's Hardtalk program, broadcast on January 21, that economic prospects had worsened over the past few months and the IMF would announce lower numbers at the January 28 press conference in Washington DC.

"So 2009 will not be a good year for the world economy, even if we see recovery at the beginning of 2010," he said.

Prospects were worse than expected not just in the United States and Europe but also in major emerging market economies such as China, India, and Brazil, which would experience very low growth compared with recent historical trends.

Stimulus key to recovery

The IMF has recommended a combination of measures to get the world back on track, including

    • action already taken by many governments to stabilize financial markets and get credit flowing again;

    • fiscal stimulus through a combination of increased government spending and tax cuts to revive consumer demand;

    • liquidity support for emerging market countries to reduce the adverse effects of the widespread capital outflows triggered by the financial crisis; and

    • help for low-income countries harmed by fallout from the crisis and the lingering impact of last year's spike in food and fuel prices.

The IMF has proposed that governments in a position to do so should act together to inject a global fiscal stimulus equivalent to about 2 percent of world GDP—$1.2 trillion.

More on spending side

A number of governments around the world have announced stimulus plans, including in the United States, Japan, Europe, China, and India. But Strauss-Kahn said he did not think enough had been done so far. "In Europe especially, they are still behind the curve," he said. "There needs to be more done on the spending side, especially because the reaction of the economy to more spending is quicker than the reaction to a decrease in taxes."

The European Commission said on January 19 it expected that the 16 countries using the euro would see their economies shrink by 1.9 percent in 2009.

Strauss-Kahn warned of the risk of social upheaval and unrest in some countries worst affected by the downturn and said he expected additional countries to seek IMF help, not just in Eastern Europe, but elsewhere in the world, including Latin America where some countries were "just on the edge."

The IMF has so far committed $47.9 billion in lending to a number of economies affected by the crisis, including Belarus, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Pakistan, Serbia, and Ukraine. It announced a precautionary loan for El Salvador this month and an IMF team is also in negotiations with Turkey.

Meltdown avoided

Strauss-Kahn said the world had avoided a total meltdown of the financial system as a result of coordinated intervention by major central banks last October. "We were very close in September to a total collapse of the world economy," the former French finance minister revealed.

He defended the IMF's different prescriptions for different economies, arguing that while major advanced economies could afford to boost spending and run up larger deficits to help get out of the recession, other crisis-hit countries, particularly the emerging markets of eastern Europe, do not have the same budgetary room to maneuver because inflows of capital had dried up and their currencies were under pressure.

Strength of the dollar

Strauss-Kahn said that even though the financial crisis had started in the United States, the recent strength of the dollar showed that people around the world still had confidence in the U.S. economy.

As long as that confidence remained, the United States would be able to finance its large deficit. Even though the Chinese economy was on the rise, the United States would still remain formidable. Through globalization, both economies would remain dependent on the rest of the world.

A longer-term issue was to fix the serious imbalances in the global economy.

IMF funding

Asked if the IMF has sufficient resources to cope with the crisis, Strauss-Kahn said that the Fund had enough money for the immediate future. "If the crisis goes on, which is most probable, then down the road—say six months from now—we will need more money."

Before the crisis erupted, the IMF had around $200 billion in available resources and access to a further $50 billion. Since then, Japan has offered to lend the IMF an additional $100 billion. Strauss-Kahn has said that the IMF may need an extra $150 billion to help emerging markets and low-income countries get through the crisis.

Better regulation

Strauss-Kahn said that the crisis highlighted the need for better regulation and supervision of the banking sector, especially in countries such as the United States.

Member governments expect the Group of 20 industrialized and emerging market economies to make significant progress in boosting transparency and tightening supervision in the financial sector when they meet in London in April. The London meeting follows the meeting in Washington last November when leaders agreed an action plan to combat the growing crisis.

Comments on this article should be sent to imfsurvey@imf.org