Tuesday, April 12, 2016

12/4/16: IMF (RIP) Growth Update: Risks Realism, Policy Idiocy

IMF WORLD ECONOMIC OUTLOOK update out today (we don’t yet have full data set update).

Top line forecasts published confirm what we already knew: global economic growth is going nowhere, fast.  Actually, faster than 3 months ago.

Run through top figures:

  • Global growth: In October 2015 (last full data update we had), the forecast for 2016-2017 was 3.6 percent and 3.8 percent. Now, it is 3.2 percent and 3.5 percent. Cumulated loss (over 2016-2017) of 0.725 percentage points in world GDP within a span 6 months.
  • Advanced Economies growth: October 2015 forecast was for 2.2% in 2016 and 2.2% in 2017. Now: 1.9% and 2.0%. Cumulated loss of 0.51 percentage points in 6 months
  • U.S.: October 2015 outlook estimated 2016-2017 annual rate of growth at 2.8 percent. April 2016 forecast is 2.4% and 2.5% respectively, for a cumulative two-years loss in growth terms of 0.72 percentage points
  • Euro area: the comatose of growth were supposed to eek out GDP expansion of 1.6 and 1.7 percent in 2016-2017 under October 2015 forecast. April 2016 forecast suggests growth is expected to be 1.5% and 1.6%. The region remains the weakest advanced economy after Japan
  • Japan is now completely, officially dead-zone for growth. In October 2015, IMF was forecasting growth of 1% in 2016 and 0.4% in 2017. That was bad? Now the forecast is for 0.5% and -0.1% respectively. Cumulated loss in Japan’s real GDP over 2016-2017 is 1.005 percentage points.
  • Brazil: Following 3.8 contraction in 2015 is now expected to produce another 3.8 contraction in real GDP in 2016 before returning to 0.00 percent growth in 2017. Contrast this with October WEO forecast for 2016 growth at -1% and 2017 forecast for growth of +2.3% and you have two-years cumulated loss in real GDP of a whooping 5.08 percentage points.
  • Russia: projections for 2016-2017 growth published in October 2015 were at -0.6% and 1% respectively. New projections are -1.8% and +0.8%, implying a cumulative loss in real GDP outlook for 2016-2017 of 1.41 percentage points.
  • India: The only country covered by today’s update with no revisions to October 2015 forecasts. IMF still expects the country economy to expand 7.5% per annum in both 2016 and 2017
  • China: China is the only country with an upgrade for forecasts for both 2016 and 2017 compared to both January 2016 and October 2016 IMF releases. Chinese economy is now forecast to grow 6.5% and 6.2% in 2016 and 2017, compared to October 2015 forecast of 6.3% and 6.0%.

Beyond growth forecasts, IMF also revised its forecasts for World Trade Volumes. In October 2015, the Fund projected World Growth to expand at 4.1% and 4.6% y/y in 2016 and 2017. April 2016 update sees this growth falling to 3.1% and 3.8%, respectively. And this is without accounting for poor prices performance.

In short, World economy’s trip through the Deadville (that started around 2011) is running swimmingly:

Meanwhile, as IMF notes, “financial risks prominent, together with geopolitical shocks, political discord”. In other words,we are one shock away from a disaster.

IMF response to this is: "The current diminished outlook calls for an immediate, proactive response… To support global growth, …there is a need for a more potent policy mix—a three-pronged policy approach based on structural, fiscal, and monetary policies.” In other words, what IMF thinks the world needs is:

  1. More private & financial debt shoved into the system via Central Banks
  2. More deficit spending to boost Government debt levels for the sake of ‘jobs creation’, and
  3. More tax ‘rebalancing’ to make sure you don’t feel too wealthy from (1) and (2) above, whilst those who do get wealthy from (1) and (2) - aka banks, institutional investors, crony state-connected contractors - can continue to enjoy tax holidays.

In addition, of course, the fabled IMF ‘structural reforms’ are supposed to benefit the World Economy by making sure that labour income does not get any growth any time soon. Because, you know, someone (labour earners) has to suffer if someone (banks & investment markets) were to party a bit harder… for sustainability sake.

IMF grafts this idiocy of an advice onto partially realistic analysis of underlying risks to global growth:

  • “The recovery is hampered by weak demand, partly held down by unresolved crisis legacies, as well as unfavorable demographics and low productivity growth. In the United States, ..domestic demand will be supported by strengthening balance sheets, no further fiscal drag, and an improving housing market. These forces are expected to offset the drag to net exports coming from a strong dollar and weaker manufacturing.” One wonders if the IMF noticed rising debt levels in households (car loans, student loans) or U.S. corporates, or indeed the U.S. Government debt dynamics
  • “In the euro area, low investment, high unemployment, and weak balance sheets weigh on growth…” You can’t but wonder if the IMF actually is capable of seeing households of Europe as still being somewhat economically alive.

But the Fund does see incoming risks rising: “In the current environment of weak growth, risks to the outlook are now more pronounced. These include:

  • A return of financial turmoil, impairing confidence. For instance, an additional bout of exchange rate depreciations in emerging economies could further worsen corporate balance sheets, and a sharp decline in capital inflows could force a rapid compression of domestic demand. [Note: nothing about Western Banks being effectively zombified by capital requirements uncertainty, corporate over-leveraging, still weighted down by poor quality assets, etc]
  • A sharper slowdown in China than currently projected could have strong international spillovers through trade, commodity prices, and confidence, and lead to a more generalized slowdown in the global economy. 
  • Shocks of a noneconomic origin—related to geopolitical conflicts, political discord, terrorism, refugee flows, or global epidemics—loom over some countries and regions and, if left unchecked, could have significant spillovers on global economic activity.”

The key point, however, is that with currently excessively leveraged Central Banks’ balance sheets and with interest rates being effectively at zero, any of the above (and other, unmentioned by the IMF) shocks can derail the entire wedding of the ugly groom with an unsightly bride that politicians around the world call ‘the ongoing recovery’. And that point is only a sub-text to the IMF latest update. It should have been the front page of it.

So before anyone noticed, almost a 1,000 rate cuts around the world later, and roughly USD20 trillion in various asset purchasing programmes around the globe, trillions in bad assets work-outs and tens of trillions in Government and corporate debt uplifts, we are still where we were: at a point of system fragility being so acute, even the half-blind moles of IMF spotting the shine of the incoming train.

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