2019 Global Economic Outlook: World Bank Report

The World Bank released its 2019 Global Economy Outlook in January this year. In this post I try to highlight the key facts and information from their press released and patially from the report as well.

Global Summary

  • International trade and manufacturing activity have slowed down.
  • Intensifying trade tensions could result in even weaker global growth and disrupt global interconnected value chains.
  • Borrowing costs for emerging and developing economies have increased.
  • Uprising in commodity exporters has stagnated and activity in commodity importers is decelerating.
    • Energy prices have fluctuated, mainly due to supply factors.
    • Other commodity prices have also weakened – particularly metals – posing further challenges to commodity exporters.
  • Past increases in public and private debt could heighten vulnerability to swings in financing conditions.
    • Debt vulnerability (debt-to-GDP ratio) is rising in low-income countries.
  • Maintaining low global inflation may become a challenge as long-term factors that helped reduce inflation in past decades may lose momentum.
East Asia and Pacific remains one of the world’s fastest developing regions. Regional growth expected at 6% in 2019.
  • China 6.2%
  • Indonesia 5.2%
  • Thailand 3.8%
Europe and Central Asia. Financial stress in Turkey is weightening down regional growth, expected at 2.3% in 2019.
  • Turkey 1.6% (due to high inflation, high interest rates and low market confidence)
  • Poland 4%
Latin America and Caribbean. Regional growth is expected at 1.7% in 2019.
  • Brasil 2.2% (assuming fiscal reform is quickly put in place).
  • Mexico 2%
  • Argentina -1.7% (as deep fiscal consolidation leads to loss of employment and reduced consumption and investment)
Middle East and North Africa. Regional growth expected to rise to 1.9% in 2019. Domestic factors such as policy reforms are promoting growth in the region. Oil exporters expected to pick up slightly and GCC countries expected to grow 2.6%.
  • Iran -3.6% (due to sanctions)
  • Algeria 2.3%
  • Egypt 5.6% (as investments is supported by reforms and consumption picks up)
South Asia. Regional growth expected to accelerate tp 7.1% in 2019, by strenghtening investment and robust consumption.
  • India 7.3%
  • Pakistan 3.7%
  • Sri Lanka 4%
  • Nepal 5.9%
Sub-Saharan Africa. Regional growth expected to accelerate to 3.4% due to diminished policy uncertainty.
  • Nigeria 2.2% (assuming that oil production will recover)
  • Angola 2.9% (assuming that oil sector recovers)
  • South Africa 1.3% due to constraints on domestic demand and unlimited government spending.

The United States remains stable due to fiscal stimulus and better than expected domestic deman, with GDP growth projected at 2.9% in 2019. Growth in the European Union, on the other hand, is weaker than expected at 1.6%, due to slowing exports and as monetary stimulus is withdrawn.

Source: World Bank Press Release

2019 Economic Outlook Brazil: Infrastructure and Reforms

On February 4th, the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro delivered the yearly Message to National Congress, in its opening ceremony for the 2019 legislative year. This article is based solely on the official document, which is divided in five main chapters: Economy, Infrastructure, Society, Strategic Issues, and Public Administration. It covers highlights related to macroeconomic reforms and infrastructure. And a second post containing highlights related to Strategic Issues and Foreign Policy will follow.

Economic Overview

  • The country ended 2018 with a deficit of USD 14 bi for 12 months (0,7% of GDP).
  • Exports were impacted by the economic crisis in Argentina. However, soy exports to China increased in the second semester due to restrictions derived from US-China trade tensions.
  • The report states that the country faces low external vulnerability as a result of its international reserve volume (USD 380 bi) and the flow of its direct foreign investment.
  • Labour market still experiences high rates of unemployment, but shows slow recovery.
  • Macroeconomic reforms are proposed for social security, fiscal system, public administration, foreign trade liberalization, privatization, and the autonomy of Central Bank.

Fiscal Reform

Brasil faces two major problems in its fiscal system. First is the high tax rates, which can reach 33% of GDP. This is above the other emerging economies and other Latin American countries, which average 20% of GDP). Secondly, its tax system is highly complex. This demands high resources from both private and public sectors, and generates high levels of litigation disputes due to uncertainties. Current fiscal reform proposals are limited to measures that seek to simplify enforcement, reduce tax cost liability and reduce the cumulative effects of some federal taxes. The message also states the continuity of the New Fiscal Regime (or, NRF – Novo Regime Fiscal), introduced by the Constitutional Amendment No. 95, of December 15, 2016, which is relevant for the fiscal rebalancing of the Federal Government. This regime, also called the “spending ceiling” (teto de gastos), established a limit for federal primary expenditure.

Social Security Reform

Payment of Social Security benefits has been the main factor responsible for the increase in total public spending in the last 20 years. In addition, the growth of pension transfers tends to accelerate due to the rapid demographic transition that the country is experiencing. The fertility rate fell considerably between 1980 and 2015, from 4.1 to 1.7 children per woman, which implies lower population growth in the future.

Infrastructure

One of the main problems is the lack of intermodal infrastructure allowing for connections between the national network of seaports to other modes of transportation (road, rail and river). It is necessary to reduce costs by improving port efficiency, which implies integration with the railway and road networks, linking the main regions of the country. It is also imperative to reduce costs and deadlines for boarding and disembarking. The goal is to reach performance levels of ports in countries such as South Korea (Busan port), Japan (Yokohama port) and Taiwan (Kaohsiung port).

The Government plans to launch dredging and land infrastructure projects, as well as completing other projects that will increase its seaport infrastructure capacity by 11.25 million tons /year, 4.11 million tons m³ /year, 250 thousand TEU /year, 13 thousand passengers /year and 50 thousand vehicles /year. The immediate goal is to auction ten port terminals in order to expand current capacity.

In 2018, a bidding announcement was issued for the 30-year concession of 12 airports in the Northeast, Southeast and Mid-Western regions. For the next years, it is projected the continuity of the airport concessions through the release of other bidding blocks.

Its road network, has not received the volume of investments needed for keeping up with the economic activity. Recent surveys indicate that only 38% of the segments are classified as being of good or better conditions. The government estimates USD 7,08 bi in investments for the next 5 planned concessions, which will comprise around 5,000 km of highways.

Source: Mensagem ao Congresso Nacional 2019

[Podcast] Christine Lagarde’s call for action – IMF World Economic Outlook

In today’s podcast we are going to be speaking about the IMF World Economic Outlook, which is a publication that was release by the International Monetary Fund in October of 2018. I actually want to focus this conversation a little more on the press conference that was delivered in the World Economic Forum on January 21st of 2019, where a panel was held with directors of the IMF – the Managing Director Christine Lagarde, she is very well known, but she also had the support of an economic counselor, who is the director of their research department, in order to deliver the sort of information that we are going to review today. What I think was very interesting – the highlight of this study, of course – will be Lagarde’s message because she introduced us to the study. She gave us an overview of what is actually happening in the global economy. But she had a very strong call for action and, of course, when that comes from Christine Lagarde I think that we need to focus and pay attention. She is a powerful woman, she is running the IMF, and it was very interesting to see her out there and deliver this message.

In the beginning she tried to make this analogy between cross-country skiing with the global economy. It was quite interesting, it was kind of cute to see her – such a powerful woman – come down and say: “here,” – in a very educational manner – “this is what we expect from the economic environment. We want predictability, less risk. We want things to run smoothly, just kind of like cross-country skiing”, which is a personal practice. So that was quite interesting.

But Lagarde did not have a very exciting message to tell us. She actually had some unfortunate news for the global economic environment. She told us, here, we have to deliver this message that we are downgrading the growth forecast since october 2018, because risks are on the rise and we have some bad news on the trading front, so we have some threats in the trading environment which is sort of escalating all sorts of problems and risks in the global economy and for that reason they had to announce a further downward revision of the forecast that was published in October. This is pretty much because of the significantly higher risks.

Higher trade tariffs and rising uncertainty over future trade policies. That is a big issue that is one of the key sources of global economic risks. Lower asset prices, higher market volatility, which these three combined are tightening financing conditions and that is including for advanced economies. And this is in a scenario of high debt burden in both private and public sectors are carrying a high debt load right now.

But she does give us the message that we are not facing a global recession right around the corner. This does not mean that a major downturn is happening. But what is happening is that a sharper decline in global economic growth is happening, there are many issues, including geopolitical worries as well.

But she says that this scenario actually shows us a very clear message for policy-makers. One is that they need to address remaining vulnerabilities. And two, is that they need to be ready if a serious slow down were actually to materialize. So, if a recession is actually to materialize, policy-makers need to be ready. Third message is that policy-makers need to harness existing growth momentum, and she is very emphatic. She says, yes, there is growth momentum, so we need to take advantage of that and harness these sorts of opportunities.

Policy-makers also need to work on reducing high government debt, and she is making a point here that this opens space to fight future downturn in the global economy. So, economies need to be ready if that comes to take place.

As far as monetary policy, they should be data dependent and exchange rates should be allowed as shock absorbers, and I thought that that was kind of interesting because of the whole conversation behind exchange rate manipulation. Next message is about economic reforms. They need to be in place in order to push growth, specially in labour markets and infrastructure investments.

So, these were the messages that she believes that this risky scenario is showing us. But she also makes a point in saying that if we must deliver the promise of the digital revolution, it has to be inclusive to all people, including measures to help workers that are displaced because of the automation of work, and we also need to create opportunities for women and young people.

She has a very important point here on International Cooperation. She said that for efficient and effective collaboration in the international system we have to increase our efforts in resolving the shared problems and that meaning, we need to fix the global trading system. There is a call for action here for the G-20 saying that they have to deliver results. This is a call for the World Trade Organization reform. I think this took place in Buenos Aires. She says that we need to collaborate in fighting corruption and tax evasion, and also, collectively address climate change.

Now, one very interesting message, I think she nailed in closing her speech talking about something that she calls New Multilateralism. And that was brilliant, because she runs away from the term globalization. Because people have been feeling very uncomfortable about the globalization topic, and globalization issues. Countries are becoming more nationalist driven, and she puts this here that is not becoming a unit, it is staying multilateral but acting together. And I thought that that was quite brilliant. She gives us a new perspective on globalization. Kind of running away from the term, but still sticking to togetherness. Kind of nice. And that includes macroeconomic policies and structural reforms that need to be applied to many economies in the world.

Now, going back to the report. In October of 2018, the IMF had this projection of global growth at 3.7% in 2019 and they reduced that to 3.5% in 2019 and then they also reduced to 3.6% in 2020. Now this is for global growth. The growth in advanced economies is forecasted at 2% in 2019 and 1.7% in 2020. And then emerging markets and developing economies at 4.5% in 2019 and 4.9% in 2020.

Both in the report and the press conference, they really put emphasis on the rising trading tensions and then the policy uncertainty that raise concerns about the global economic prospects, because these factors could actually lead firms to postpone or forgo capital spending, and then hence slow down economic growth and investment and demand.

One very interesting point in the report – and this is where I am going to close this podcast with – is the point that the IMF is now keeping an eye on increasing market power. They also think that this is a risk for economic growth. They said that the concerns about corporate market power is growing pretty much for two reasons. One is because, in the past decades, there has been some macroeconomic trends that can be somewhat the fault of corporate behaviour. Low investments, despite of rising corporate profits, declining business dynamism, low productivity growth and falling labour income. This is quite interesting because they pretty much raise a flag here saying, here, we have to review the behaviour that is happening in the private environment, we have to follow up on actions that are going to change this sort of trending behaviour. And, I mean, if we are talking about Corporate Diplomacy, there is a lot to be talked about on here – activities and strategies that need to be built in order to respond to such a claim that corporate market power can actually account for these macroeconomic trends that are not so positive for the overall economy.

And then the second reason about the rising concern in the market power of corporations is that the rise of tech giants has raised questions about whether this trend – of the tech giants becoming more powerful – and if this trend continues, the IMF is saying that we need to rethink the policy that is needed in order to maintain fair and strong competition. I thought that it was very nice to put in the context of Corporate Diplomacy. So, there is a lot that could be explored in this report. This increasing market power session in this report itself is evidence that government is becoming aware and it actually wants to tackle the sort of increase in power for private environment. And all sorts of strategies that have to be built, not because the private environment needs to win in the game. We actually want a balanced governance strategy nowadays.