At the start of the year, economists and corporate leaders expressed optimism that global economic growth might not slow down as much as they had feared. Positive developments included China’s reopening, signs of resilience in Europe and falling energy prices.
But a crisis in the banking sector that emerged last month has changed the calculus. The International Monetary Fund downgraded its forecasts for the global economy Tuesday, noting “the recent increase in financial market volatility.”
The IMF now expects economic growth to slow from 3.4% in 2022 to 2.8% in 2023. Its estimate in January had been for 2.9% growth this year.
“Uncertainty is high, and the balance of risks has shifted firmly to the downside so long as the financial sector remains unsettled,” the organization said in its latest report.
Fears about the economic outlook have increased following the failures in March of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, two regional US lenders, and the loss of confidence in the much-larger Credit Suisse
(CS), which was sold to rival UBS in a government-backed rescue deal.
Already, the global economy was grappling with the consequences of high and persistent inflation, the rapid rise in interest rates to fight it, elevated debt levels and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Now, concerns about the health of the banking industry join the list.
“These forces are now overlaid by, and interacting with, new financial stability concerns,” the IMF said, noting that policymakers trying to tame inflation while averting a “hard landing,” or a painful recession, “may face difficult trade-offs.”
Global inflation, which the IMF said was proving “much stickier than anticipated,” is expected to fall from 8.7% in 2022 to 7% this year and to 4.9% in 2024.
Investors are looking for additional pockets of vulnerability in the financial sector. Meanwhile, lenders may turn more conservative to preserve cash they may need to deal with an unpredictable environment.
That would make it harder for businesses and households to access loans, weighing on economic output over time.
“Financial conditions have tightened, which is likely to entail lower lending and activity if they persist,” said the IMF, which hosts its spring meeting alongside the World Bank this week.
If another shock to the world’s financial system results in a “sharp” deterioration in financial conditions, global growth could slow to 1% this year, the IMF warned. That would mean “near-stagnant income per capita.” The group put the probably of this happening at about 15%.
The IMF acknowledged forecasting was difficult in this climate. The “fog around the world economic outlook has thickened,” it said.
And it warned that weak growth would likely persist for years. Looking ahead to 2028, global growth is estimated at 3%, the lowest medium-term forecast since 1990.
The IMF said this sluggishness was attributable in part to scarring from the pandemic, aging workforces and geopolitical fragmentation, pointing to Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, economic tensions between the United States and China and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Interest rates in advanced economies are likely to revert to their pre-pandemic levels once the current spell of high inflation has passed, the IMF also said.
The body’s forecast for global growth this year is now closer to that of the World Bank. David Malpass, the outgoing World Bank president, told reporters Monday that the group now saw a 2% expansion in output in 2023, up from 1.7% predicted in January, Reuters has reported.
In a separate report published Tuesday, the IMF said that while the rapid increase in interest rates was straining banks and other financial firms, there were fundamental differences from the 2008 global financial crisis.
Banks now have much more capital to be able to withstand shocks. They also have curbed risky lending due to stricter regulations.
Instead, the IMF pointed to similarities between the latest banking turmoil and the US savings and loan crisis in the 1980s, when trouble at smaller institutions hurt confidence in the broader financial system.
So far, investors are “pricing a fairly optimistic scenario,” the IMF noted in a blog based on the report, adding that access to credit was actually greater now than it had been in October.
“While market participants see recession probabilities as high, they also expect the depth of the recession to be modest,” the IMF said.
Yet those expectations could be quickly upended. If inflation rises further, for example, investors could judge that interest rates will stay higher for longer, the group wrote in the blog.
“Stresses could then reemerge in the financial system,” it noted.
That bolsters the need for decisive action by policymakers, the IMF said. It called for gaps in supervision and regulation to “be addressed at once,” citing the need in many countries for stronger plans to wind down failed banks and for improvements to deposit insurance programs.
— Olesya Dmitracova contributed to this report.