IMF to nudge up global growth forecast, but warns danger of 'Tepid Twenties' lurks

Inflation and ongoing debt challenges could result in ‘sluggish decade,’ organization cautions

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The International Monetary Fund hinted it would nudge its global growth forecasts slightly higher, while warning that the world economy still risks a “Tepid Twenties” this decade if inflation and debt challenges aren’t addressed.

Global growth will be “marginally stronger” in the IMF’s new predictions, to be published April 16, managing director Kristalina Georgieva said in a prepared speech for delivery Thursday in Washington. The most recent outlook, from January, envisaged an expansion of 3.1 per cent this year and 3.2 per cent in 2025.

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Robust consumption and investment, as well as easing supply-chain problems, are among the drivers of strong growth in the United States and many emerging-market economies, she said. But the IMF chief added that inflation was not yet fully defeated and debt levels in most countries are too high.

“Without a course correction, we are indeed heading for ‘the Tepid Twenties’ – a sluggish and disappointing decade,” she said, pointing out that the fund’s medium-term outlook for global growth remains “well below its historical average” at just above three per cent.

She also called on central banks to avoid premature or delayed monetary easing, which risks triggering new inflation surprises or pouring cold water on economic activity.

“The Fed is acting prudently,” she said in an interview with Atlantic Council president Fred Kempe following the speech, which she gave at the think tank. The Biden administration also will likely “look at what can be done so that the economy doesn’t overheat to a point that is not healthy,” she said, while warning that a strong dollar for a long time risks causing financial stability worries for other nations.

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IMF global growth forecasts

“There’s policy capacity for the U.S. to manage that famous soft landing well,” Georgieva said. “So fasten your seatbelts — at some point we will be landing.”

Countries should bring their debt to sustainable levels and pursue policies to boost productivity growth via green and digital transformation, she said.

Georgieva, who’s poised to win a second five-year term as head of the fund, spoke ahead of its spring meetings held jointly with the World Bank in Washington next week.

Fresh off a trip to China near the end of last month, Georgieva said that the nation’s leadership is aware that it must chart a new course for its economy by being more decisive with failing companies in its property sector, boosting domestic demand and following through on reforms of state-owned enterprises and resolving local government debt challenges. All of that is important beyond China’s borders, given the impact on other countries in Asia and the rest of the world.

“China making good choices would be good for everybody,” she said.

She also highlighted an increase in industrial policy actions worldwide last year, citing an analysis that shows more than 2,500 interventions. China, the European Union and the U.S. account for almost half of the total, she said.

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“There is a need for caution” in such measures, Georgieva said. But she added that there’s a case for industrial policy to help address market failures, such as encouraging innovations that tackle climate change.

Trade tensions have risen in recent months as the U.S. and Europe criticize China for adopting what they call unfair policies to promote industries including electric vehicles, arguing the result is overcapacity that distorts global prices. China has pushed back, saying the current output of green industries is far from meeting demand, vowing to rely on markets to remove overcapacity where it exists.

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The IMF chief also warned that there’s a growing divergence within and across country groups, with the U.S. economy rebounding strongly while Europe has a more gradual recovery.

Low-income countries suffered the most severe scarring effect from the pandemic, and fragile and conflict-affected economies are bearing the heaviest burden, she said.

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