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Global Economy to Edge Up to 3.1 percent in 2018 but Future Potential Growth a Concern

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The World Bank forecasts global economic growth to edge up to 3.1 percent in 2018 after a much stronger-than-expected 2017, as the recovery in investment, manufacturing, and trade continues, and as commodity-exporting developing economies benefit from firming commodity prices.

However, this is largely seen as a short-term upswing. Over the longer term, slowing potential growth—a measure of how fast an economy can expand when labor and capital are fully employed—puts at risk gains in improving living standards and reducing poverty around the world, the World Bank warns in its January 2018 Global Economic Prospects.

Growth in advanced economies is expected to moderate slightly to 2.2 percent in 2018, as central banks gradually remove their post-crisis accommodation and as an upturn in investment levels off. Growth in emerging market and developing economies as a whole is projected to strengthen to 4.5 percent in 2018, as activity in commodity exporters continues to recover.

“The broad-based recovery in global growth is encouraging, but this is no time for complacency,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “This is a great opportunity to invest in human and physical capital. If policy makers around the world focus on these key investments, they can increase their countries’ productivity, boost workforce participation, and move closer to the goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.”

2018 is on track to be the first year since the financial crisis that the global economy will be operating at or near full capacity. With slack in the economy expected to dissipate, policymakers will need to look beyond monetary and fiscal policy tools to stimulate short-term growth and consider initiatives more likely to boost long-term potential.

The slowdown in potential growth is the result of years of softening productivity growth, weak investment, and the aging of the global labor force. The deceleration is widespread, affecting economies that account for more than 65 percent of global GDP. Without efforts to revitalize potential growth, the decline may extend into the next decade, and could slow average global growth by a quarter percentage point and average growth in emerging market and developing economies by half a percentage point over that period.

“An analysis of the drivers of the slowdown in potential growth underscores the point that we are not helpless in the face of it,” said World Bank Senior Director for Development Economics, Shantayanan Devarajan. “Reforms that promote quality education and health, as well as improve infrastructure services could substantially bolster potential growth, especially among emerging market and developing economies.  Yet, some of these reforms will be resisted by politically powerful groups, which is why making this information about their development benefits transparent and publicly available is so important.”

Risks to the outlook remain tilted to the downside. An abrupt tightening of global financing conditions could derail the expansion. Escalating trade restrictions and rising geopolitical tensions could dampen confidence and activity. On the other hand, stronger-than-anticipated growth could also materialize in several large economies, further extending the global upturn.

“With unemployment rates returning to pre-crisis levels and the economic picture brighter in advanced economies and the developing world alike, policymakers will need to consider new approaches to sustain the growth momentum,” said World Bank Development Economics Prospects Director Ayhan Kose. “Specifically, productivity-enhancing reforms have become urgent as the pressures on potential growth from aging populations intensify.”

In addition to exploring developments at the global and regional levels, the January 2018 Global Economic Prospects takes a close look at the outlook for potential growth in each of the six global regions; lessons from the 2014-2016 oil price collapse; and the connection between higher levels of skill and education and lower levels of  inequality in emerging market and developing economies.

Regional Summaries

East Asia and Pacific: Growth in the region is forecast to slip to 6.2 percent in 2018 from an estimated 6.4 percent in 2017. A structural slowdown in China is seen offsetting a modest cyclical pickup in the rest of the region. Risks to the outlook have become more balanced. Stronger-than-expected growth among advanced economies could lead to faster-than-anticipated growth in the region. On the downside, rising geopolitical tension, increased global protectionism, an unexpectedly abrupt tightening of global financial conditions, and steeper-than-expected slowdown in major economies, including China, pose downside risks to the regional outlook. Growth in China is forecast to moderate to 6.4 percent in 2018 from 6.8 percent in 2017. Indonesia is forecast to accelerate to 5.3 percent in 2018 from 5.1 percent in 2017.

Europe and Central Asia: Growth in the region is anticipated to ease to 2.9 percent in 2018 from an estimated 3.7 percent in 2017. Recovery is expected to continue in the east of the region, driven by commodity exporting economies, counterbalanced by a gradual slowdown in the western part as a result of moderating economic activity in the Euro Area. Increased policy uncertainty and a renewed decline in oil prices present risks of lower-than-anticipated growth. Russia is expected to expand by 1.7 percent in 2018, unchanged from its estimated growth rate in 2017. Turkey is projected to moderate to 3.5 percent this year from 6.7 percent in the year just ended.

Latin America and the Caribbean: Growth in the region is projected to advance to 2 percent in 2018, from an estimated 0.9 percent in 2017. Growth momentum is expected to gather as private consumption and investment strengthen, particularly among commodity-exporting economies. Additional policy uncertainty, natural disasters, a rise in trade protectionism in the United States, or further deterioration of domestic fiscal conditions could throw growth off course.  Brazil is expected to pick up to 2 percent in 2018, from an estimated 1 percent in 2017. Mexico is anticipated to accelerate to 2.1 percent this year, from an estimated 1.9 percent last year.

Middle East and North Africa: Growth in the region is expected to jump to 3 percent in 2018 from 1.8 percent in 2017. Reforms across the region are expected to gain momentum, fiscal constraints are expected to ease as oil prices stay firm, and improved tourism is anticipated to support growth among economies that are not dependent on oil exports. Continued geopolitical conflicts and oil price weakness could set back economic growth. Growth in Saudi Arabia is forecast to accelerate to 1.2 percent in 2018 from 0.3 percent in 2017, while growth is anticipated to pick up to 4.5 percent in the Arab Republic of Egypt in FY 2018 from 4.2 percent last year.

South Asia: Growth in the region is forecast to accelerate to 6.9 percent in 2018 from an estimated 6.5 percent in 2017. Consumption is expected to stay strong, exports are anticipated to recover, and investment is on track to revive as a result of policy reforms and infrastructure upgrades. Setbacks to reform efforts, natural disasters, or an upswing in global financial volatility could slow growth. India is expected to pick up to a 7.3 percent rate in fiscal year 2018/19, which begins April 1, from 6.7 percent in FY 2017/18. Pakistan is anticipated to accelerate to 5.8 percent in FY 2018/19, which begins July 1, from 5.5 percent in FY 2017/18.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Growth in the region is anticipated to pick up to 3.2 percent in 2018 from 2.4 percent in 2017. Stronger growth will depend on a firming of commodity prices and implementation of reforms. A drop in commodity prices, steeper-than-anticipated global interest rate increases, and inadequate efforts to ameliorate debt dynamics could set back economic growth. South Africa is forecast to tick up to 1.1 percent growth in 2018 from 0.8 percent in 2017. Nigeria is anticipated to accelerate to a 2.5 percent expansion this year from 1 percent in the year just ended.

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Emerging East Asia Bond Market Growth Steady Amid Global Slowdown

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Emerging East Asia’s local currency bond market posted steady growth during the third quarter of 2019 despite persistent trade uncertainties and a global economic downturn, according to the latest issue of the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Asia Bond Monitor.

“The ongoing trade dispute between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the United States and a sharper-than-expected economic slowdown in advanced economies and the PRC continue to pose the biggest downside risks to the region’s financial stability,” said ADB Chief Economist Mr. Yasuyuki Sawada. “However, monetary policy easing in several advanced economies is helping to keep financial conditions stable.”

Emerging East Asia comprises the PRC; Hong Kong, China; Indonesia; the Republic of Korea; Malaysia; the Philippines; Singapore; Thailand; and Viet Nam.

Local currency bonds outstanding in emerging East Asia reached $15.2 trillion at the end of September. This was 3.1% higher than at the end of June. Local currency government bonds outstanding totaled $9.4 trillion, accounting for 61.8% of the total, while the stock of corporate bonds was $5.8 trillion. A total of $1.5 trillion in local currency bonds were issued in the third quarter, up 0.9% versus the previous three months.

The PRC remained emerging East Asia’s largest bond market at $11.5 trillion, accounting for 75.4% of emerging East Asia’s outstanding bonds. Indonesia had the fastest-growing local currency bond market in the region during the third quarter, boosted by large issuance of treasury bills and bonds.

A special theme chapter examines the relationship between bond market development and the risk-taking behavior of banks. The analysis finds that well-developed bond markets reduce the overall risk of banks and improve their liquidity positions. This suggests bond market development can contribute to the soundness of the banking system.

An annual liquidity survey in the report shows increased liquidity and trading volumes in most regional local currency bond markets in 2019 versus 2018. It also highlights the need for a well-functioning hedging mechanism and diversified investor base for both government and corporate bonds.

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Job Quality in Cambodia is Improving, but New Policies Are Needed to Benefit from Global Markets

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The diversity and quality of jobs available in Cambodia is improving, yet new policies are needed for Cambodia to benefit from the opportunities available in future global markets, according to a World Bank report, Cambodia’s Future Jobs: Linking to the Economy of Tomorrow, released today.

Of the 8 million jobs in Cambodia, 37 percent are wage jobs, many of which offer higher earnings and more protections to workers. However, the other 63 percent of jobs remain more traditional. Such jobs on family farms or in household enterprises are weakly integrated in the modern economy and offer workers lower earnings.

“The diversity and quality of jobs in Cambodia has gradually improved,” said Inguna Dobraja, World Bank Country Manager for Cambodia. “But global trends, such as the growing Asian middle class, shifting trade patterns, and automation require that Cambodia re-think its jobs strategy as it advances to the next stage of export-led development.”

Foreign-owned firms have been significant contributors of higher quality jobs in Cambodia. By 2015, one-third of all wage jobs in Cambodia were in foreign-owned firms. During the period 2010-2015, the garments industry was the fastest-growing occupation sector, increasing its share of employment by 1.1 percent per year.

Domestic firms are more numerous than foreign-owned firms, but they do not contribute as many jobs. Domestic firms employ an average 8 workers, compared to 124 in foreign-owned firms. A key concern is ensuring Cambodian workers are equipped with the skills to compete with workers from other countries for jobs in foreign-owned firms. In 2016, 37.6 of exporters cited an inadequately educated workforce as a top business obstacle.

The report recommends a four-pronged strategy to securing more and better jobs in the future: diversify exports into higher value-added production; create a domestic business environment that supports local firms growth; strengthen linkages between the domestic and export sectors of the economy; and invest in workers’ skills and education. The report further details seven policy recommendations that would advance these strategic goals:

Diversify exports and foreign direct investment (FDI) into higher value-added value chains. Most current jobs are in low-value segments of global value chains. Simplifying processes, providing incentives to foreign investors, and creating quality assurance facilities will encourage diversification of exports and FDI into higher value-added value chains or segments of value chains.

Streamline procedures and reduce the costs of establishing and expanding small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), which have considerable potential to create jobs. Such policies would include reducing the cost of doing business for local firms, increasing firm contributions to worker skills development, increasing access to financing through grant programs and fiscal incentives, and providing support to firms to hire more workers.

Help household enterprises enhance their productivity and create better jobs. Household enterprises account for one out of every five jobs in Cambodia and this will grow with increased urbanization. Information technology, for example, can help household enterprises improve their basic business practices and access broader markets.

Support the development of links between exporting FDI firms and domestic input-supplying firms, by, for example, providing incentives to foreign firms to source their inputs from local SMEs, creating a directory of local suppliers with the capacity to partner with foreign firms, and establishing local supplier development programs.

Build a skills development system that will attract higher-value FDI and increase productivity across the economy. Cambodia’s workforce is getting by with only 6.3 years of education on average. Policymakers should focus on reforming today’s education system to help the tomorrow’s workers acquire the broad range of skills needed to work in a knowledge-intensive economy andengage enterprises in the design, financing, and support of a technical and vocational training system to serve today’s workers.

Promote efficient labor mobility and job matching by opening formal international migration channels and supporting programs that encourage circular migration, and by disseminating information about job opportunities inside and outside of the country to students, jobseekers, education and training institutes, and employers so that skills development choices are aligned with the changing labor market demand.

Regain macroeconomic independence and exchange-rate flexibility. US dollar fluctuations have a significant impact on Cambodia’s trade and commodities sectors, which are responsible for most of the country’s jobs. As Cambodia begins to export to a broader range of countries, macroeconomic and fiscal stability will help shield existing jobs from factors related to the US dollar.

“The success of Cambodia’s job strategy will depend on the participation and cooperation of stakeholders across the economy, not only policy makers and government leaders, but also entrepreneurs, investors, development partners, and, of course, workers themselves,” said Wendy Cunningham, Lead Economist and a lead author of the report.

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Emerging and Developing Economies Less Prepared Now for a Deeper Downturn

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Emerging and developing economies are less well positioned today to withstand a deeper global downturn, should it occur, than they were before the 2009 global recession, although they now have more resilient policy frameworks to respond, a new World Bank Group study of the global recession and its aftermath finds.

With multiple risks to global growth clouding the outlook, there is concern whether emerging and developing economies can effectively respond to a deeper economic slowdown as they were able to do during the 2009 global recession. The new study by the World Bank Group, A Decade after the Global Recession, compares emerging market and developing economies’ preparedness then and now, and finds reason both for concern and for optimism.

“The big lesson of the past decade is clear, you need to be prepared for the unexpected,” said World Bank Group Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions, Ceyla Pazarbasioglu. “Developing countries need to urgently boost resilience and growth, by building human and physical capital, streamlining business regulations, and strengthening institutions.”

Since the 2009 global recession, emerging and developing economies have become more vulnerable to external shocks in an environment of mounting debt and weakening long-term growth prospects, the study finds.

However, at the same time, many emerging market and developing economies now have stronger policy frameworks, such as fiscal rules and inflation targeting monetary policy regimes, than during earlier financial crises and global recessions. Meanwhile, international financial sector regulation has strengthened.

“Policy frameworks in many emerging and developing economies have become more resilient, for example through inflation targeting regimes and fiscal rules,” said World Bank Prospects Group Director Ayhan Kose. “However, in light of downside risks and elevated vulnerabilities, policymakers should prepare their economies to mitigate the impact of adverse shocks and ensure that policy space is available to act when such shocks occur, as they inevitably will.”

The World Bank Group’s response to the global recession was unprecedent in both financing volume and country coverage, and prioritized the areas of finance, infrastructure, fiscal management, and social protection. The Bank introduced new crisis response facilities to improve its assistance to developing economies and improved its monitoring of global macroeconomic developments to more effectively flag risks.

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