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Global Economy to Expand by 3.1 percent in 2018, Slower Growth Seen Ahead

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Despite recent softening, global economic growth will remain robust at 3.1 percent in 2018 before slowing gradually over the next two years, as advanced-economy growth decelerates and the recovery in major commodity-exporting emerging market and developing economies levels off, the World Bank said on Tuesday.

“If it can be sustained, the robust economic growth that we have seen this year could help lift millions out of poverty, particularly in the fast-growing economies of South Asia,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “But growth alone won’t be enough to address pockets of extreme poverty in other parts of the world. Policymakers need to focus on ways to support growth over the longer run—by boosting productivity and labor force participation—in order to accelerate progress toward ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity.”

Activity in advanced economies is expected to grow 2.2 percent in 2018 before easing to a 2 percent rate of expansion next year, as central banks gradually remove monetary stimulus, the June 2018 Global Economic Prospects says. Growth in emerging market and developing economies overall is projected to strengthen to 4.5 percent in 2018, before reaching 4.7 percent in 2019 as the recovery in commodity exporters matures and commodity prices level off following this year’s increase.

This outlook is subject to considerable downside risks. The possibility of disorderly financial market volatility has increased, and the vulnerability of some emerging market and developing economies to such disruption has risen. Trade protectionist sentiment has also mounted, while policy uncertainty and geopolitical risks remain elevated.

A Special Focus cautions that, over the long run, the anticipated slowdown in global commodity demand could put a cap on commodity price prospects and thus on future growth in commodity-exporting countries. Major emerging markets have accounted for a substantial share of the increase in global consumption of metals and energy over the past two decades, but growth of their demand for most commodities is expected to decelerate, the Special Focus section says.

“The projected decline in commodities’ consumption growth over the long run could create challenges for the two-thirds of developing countries that depend on commodity exports for revenues,” said World Bank Senior Director for Development Economics, Shantayanan Devarajan. “This reinforces the need for economic diversification and for strengthening fiscal and monetary frameworks.”

Another Special Focus finds that elevated corporate debt can heighten financial stability concerns and weigh on investment. Corporate debt—and, in some countries, foreign currency debt—has risen rapidly since the global financial crisis, making them more vulnerable to rising borrowing costs.

“Policymakers in emerging market and developing economies need to be prepared to cope with possible bouts of financial market volatility as advanced-economy monetary policy normalization gets into high gear,” said World Bank Development Economics Prospects Director Ayhan Kose. “Rising debt levels make countries more vulnerable to higher interest rates. This underlines the importance of rebuilding buffers against financial shocks.”

After many years of downgrades, consensus forecasts for long-term growth have stabilized, a possible signal the global economy is finally emerging from the shadow of the financial crisis a decade ago. However, long-term consensus forecasts are historically overly optimistic and may have overlooked weakening potential growth and structural drags on economic activity, the report cautions.

The report urges policymakers to implement reforms that lift long-term growth prospects. A rapidly changing technological landscape highlights the importance of supporting skill acquisition and boosting competitiveness and trade openness. Improving basic numeracy and literacy could yield substantial development dividends. Finally, promoting comprehensive trade agreements can bolster growth prospects.

Regional Summaries:

East Asia and Pacific: Growth in the region is forecast to ease from 6.3 percent in 2018 to 6.1 in 2019, reflecting a slowdown in China that is partly offset by a pickup in the rest of the region. Growth in China is anticipated to slow from 6.5 percent in 2018 to 6.3 percent in 2019 as policy support eases and as fiscal policies turn less accommodative. Excluding China, growth in the region is forecast to moderate from 5.4 percent in 2018 to 5.3 percent in 2019 as a cyclical economic recovery matures. Indonesia’s economy is expected to grow 5.2 percent rate this year and 5.3 percent the next. Growth in Thailand is expected accelerate to 4.1 percent in 2018, before moderating slightly to a 3.8 percent rate in 2019. For both commodity exporting and importing economies of the region, capacity constraints and price pressures are expected to intensify over the next two years, leading to tighter monetary policy in an increasing number of countries.

Europe and Central Asia: Growth in the region is projected to moderate to an upwardly revised 3.2 percent in 2018 and edge down to 3.1 percent in 2019 as a modest recovery among commodity exporting economies is only partially offset by a slowdown among commodity importers. In Turkey, growth is forecast to slow to 4.5 percent in 2018 and to 4.0 percent in 2019 as delays in fiscal consolidation and the extension of the credit support program temper an anticipated slowdown following the strong recovery last year. Growth in Russia is anticipated to hold steady at a 1.5 percent rate this year and accelerate to 1.8 percent next year as the effects of rising oil prices and monetary policy easing are offset by oil production cuts and uncertainty around economic sanctions.

Latin America and the Caribbean: Growth in the region is projected to accelerate to a downwardly revised 1.7 percent in 2018 and to 2.3 percent in 2019, spurred by private consumption and investment. The cyclical recovery underway in Brazil is projected to continue, with growth forecast to be 2.4 percent this year and 2.5 percent in 2019. In Mexico, growth is expected to strengthen moderately to 2.3 percent in 2018 and 2.5 percent in 2019 as investment picks up. Growth in Argentina is anticipated to slow to 1.7 percent this year as monetary and fiscal tightening and the effects of the drought dampen growth, and to remain subdued next year, at 1.8 percent. Growth in some Central American agricultural exporters is expected to pick up in 2018 and 2019, while growth among the commodity importers of that sub-region is expected to stabilize or slow. Economies of the Caribbean are forecast to see a lift to growth in 2018 from post-hurricane reconstruction, tourism, and supportive commodity prices.

Middle East and North Africa: Growth in the region is projected to strengthen to 3 percent in 2018 and to 3.3 percent in 2019, largely as oil exporters recover from the collapse of oil prices. Growth among members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is anticipated to rise to 2.1 percent in 2018 and 2.7 percent in 2019, supported by higher fixed investment. Saudi Arabia is forecast to expand an upwardly revised 1.8 percent this year and 2.1 percent next year. Iran is anticipated to grow 4.1 percent in 2018 and by the same amount in 2019. Oil importing economies are forecast to see stronger growth as business and consumer confidence gets a lift from business climate reforms and improving external demand. Egypt is anticipated to grow 5 percent in Fiscal Year 2017/18 (July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018) and 5.5 percent the following fiscal year.

South Asia: Growth in the region is projected to strengthen to 6.9 percent in 2018 and to 7.1 percent in 2019, mainly as factors holding back growth in India fade. Growth in India is projected to advance 7.3 percent in Fiscal Year 2018/19 (April 1, 2018-March 31, 2019) and 7.5 percent in FY 2019/20, reflecting robust private consumption and strengthening investment. Pakistan is anticipated to expand by 5 percent in FY 2018/19 (July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019), reflecting tighter policies to improve macroeconomic stability. Bangladesh is expected to accelerate to 6.7 percent in FY 2018/19 (July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019).

Sub-Saharan Africa: Growth in the region is projected to strengthen to 3.1 percent in 2018 and to 3.5 percent in 2019, below its long-term average. Nigeria is anticipated to grow by 2.1 percent this year, as non-oil sector growth remains subdued due to low investment, and at a 2.2 percent pace next year. Angola is expected to grow by 1.7 percent in 2018 and 2.2 percent in 2019, reflecting an increased availability of foreign exchange due to higher oil prices, rising natural gas production, and improved business sentiment. South Africa is forecast to expand 1.4 percent in 2018 and 1.8 percent in 2019 as a pickup in business and consumer confidence supports stronger growth in investment and consumption expenditures. Rising mining output and stable metals prices are anticipated to boost activity in metals exporters. Growth in non-resource-intensive countries is expected to remain robust, supported by improving agricultural conditions and infrastructure investment

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COVID-19 is reversing the important gains made over the last decade for women

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Progress for women in work could be back at 2017 levels by the end of 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to analysis conducted for PwC’s annual Women in Work Index, which measures female economic empowerment across 33 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries*.  The evidence emerging globally is that the damage from COVID-19 and government response and recovery policies, is disproportionately being felt by women.

For nine years, countries across the OECD* made consistent gains towards women’s economic empowerment. However, due to COVID-19 this trend will now be reversed, with the Index estimated to fall 2.1 points between 2019 and 2021, according to analysis undertaken for PwC’s annual Women in Work Index. The Index will not begin to recover until 2022, where it should gain back 0.8 points. 

In order to undo the damage caused by COVID-19 to women in work – even by 2030, progress towards gender equality needs to be twice as fast as its historical rate.

Bhushan Sethi, Joint Global Leader, People and Organization at PwC, said:

“The setbacks that we are experiencing with COVID-19 in terms of the workforce tell a worrisome story. While the impacts are being felt by everyone across the globe, we are seeing women exiting the workforce at a faster rate than men. Women carry a heavier burden than men of unpaid care and domestic work. This has increased during the pandemic, and it is limiting women’s time and options to contribute to the economy. In the labour market, more women work in hard-hit human contact-intensive service sectors  – such as accomodation and food services, and retail trade. With social distancing and lockdowns, these sectors have seen unprecedented job losses.”   

Between 2019 and 2020, the annual OECD unemployment rate increased by 1.7 percentage points for women (from 5.7% in 2019 to 7.4% in 2020). In the US, the female unemployment rate increased sharply from 4% in March 2020 to 16% in April 2020. The female unemployment rate stayed high for the remainder of 2020, ending the year in December 2020 at 6.7%, 3 percentage points higher than in December 2019.  In the UK, the full impact of job losses from COVID-19 is yet to be realised due to job retention schemes, but furlough data shows that women are at greater risk of losing their jobs when these schemes come to an end. Between July and October 2020, a total of 15.3 million jobs were furloughed in the UK. For furloughed jobs for which gender was known, 52% of these were women’s jobs, despite women only making up 48% of the workforce.*** 

The disproportionate burden of unpaid childcare falls on women

Before COVID-19 hit, women on average spent six more hours than men on unpaid childcare every week (according to research by UN Women). During COVID-19, women have taken on an even greater share and now spend 7.7 more hours per week on unpaid childcare than men**  – this ‘second shift’ equates to 31.5 hours per week; almost as much an extra full-time job. 

This increase in unpaid labour has already reduced women’s contribution to the economy. If this extra burden lasts, it will cause more women to leave the labour market permanently, reversing progress towards gender equality and reducing productivity in the economy. 

While some women may choose to leave the workforce temporarily due to COVID-19 with the intention to return post-pandemic, research shows that career breaks have long-term impacts on women’s labour market prospects, and women will return to lower paid and lower skilled positions. 

PwC Women in Work 2021 Index (performance prior to COVID-19 pandemic)

Iceland continues to hold the top spot on the Index out of OECD countries. It is a consistent strong performer in female labour force participation (84%), has a small participation rate gap (5%), and even smaller female unemployment rate (3%).  

Greece saw the largest increase in terms of Index score between 2018 and 2019, driven by improvement in all labour market indicators except for the share of full-time female employees. On the contrary, Portugal experienced the largest decline in Index score between 2018 and 2019 due to a widening of its gender pay gap by 5 percentage points.

New Zealand and Slovenia both increased their rankings on the Index by one position. New Zealand saw an upward trend across all five indicators and has risen by 5 spots on the Index over the course of nine years. Government policy and a history of female representation in political institutions have helped to drive these gains. Slovenia’s improvement was driven by a fall in the participation rate gap and in female unemployment, as well as an increase in the share of full-time female employment. 

If OECD countries increased their rates of female employment to match Sweden’s (consistently the top performer), the gain to GDP would be over US$6 trillion per annum. The US, with one of the highest female unemployment rates, is expected to gain the most – as much as US$1.7 trillion per annum. 

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65% of Adults Think Race, Ethnicity or National Origin Affects Job Opportunities

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A recent Ipsos-World Economic Forum survey has found that 65% of all adults believe that, in their country, someone’s race, ethnicity, or national origin influences their employment opportunities. When considering their own race, ethnicity, or national origin, more than one-third say it has impacted their personal employment opportunities.

The online survey was conducted between 22 January and 5 February 2021, among more than 20,000 adults in 27 countries. It also reveals that 60% of adults think that someone’s race, ethnicity, or national origin plays a role in education opportunities, access to housing, and access to social services.

As Black History Month in the United States draws to a close, awareness of the impacts of race, ethnicity and national origin on opportunities in life is exceptionally high. It follows a tumultuous year when the pandemic put inequality into the spotlight, and events in the US sparked international protests as long-simmering, systemic racial inequities came to the forefront.

Of those surveyed, 46% say the events of the past year have increased differences in opportunities as well as access to housing, education, employment and/or social services in their country. In comparison, 43% say the events have had no impact on differences and 12% say they have decreased differences.

About 60% of respondents in Latin America, Spain and South Africa, and nearly half in France, Italy, Malaysia, Japan, Sweden, Belgium and the US say recent events have increased race, ethnicity, or national origin-based differences in opportunities in their country, compared to only about one in three in Germany, Poland and Saudi Arabia, one in four in China, and one in seven in Russia.

Perceptions versus the reported personal experience of inequality also vary significantly in countries. Compared with the 27-country average for all four types of opportunities measured, several countries stand out.

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‘Industry 4.0’ tech for post-COVID world, is driving inequality

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Developing countries must embrace ground-breaking technologies that have been a critical tool in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, or else face even greater inequalities than before, UN economic development  experts at UNCTAD said on Thursday.

“Very few countries create the technologies that drive this revolution – most of them are created in China and the US – but all countries will be affected by it”, said UNCTAD’s Shamika Sirimanne, head of Division on Technology and Logistics. “Almost none of the developing countries we studied is prepared for the consequences.”

The appeal, which is highlighted in a new UNCTAD report, relates to all things digital and connective, so-called “Industry 4.0” or “frontier technologies”, that include artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain, 5G, 3D printing, robotics, drones, nanotechnology and solar energy.

Gene editing, another fast-evolving sector, has demonstrated its worth in the last year, with the accelerated development of new coronavirus vaccines.

Drone aid

In developing countries, digital tools can be used to monitor ground water contamination, deliver medical supplies to remote communities via drones, or track diseases using big data, said UNCTAD’s Sirimanne.

But “most of these examples remain at pilot level, without ever being scaled-up to reach those most in need: the poor. To be successful, technology deployment must fulfil the five As: availability, affordability, awareness, accessibility, and the ability for effective use.”

Income gap widening

With an estimated market value of $350 billion today, the array of emerging digital solutions for life after COVID is likely to be worth over $3 trillion by 2025 – hence the need for developing countries to invest in training and infrastructure to be part of it, Sirimanne maintained.

“Most Industry 4.0 technologies that are being deployed in developed countries save labour in routine tasks affecting mid-level skill jobs. They reward digital skills and capital”, she said, pointing to the significant increase in the market value of the world’s leading digital platforms during the pandemic.

Innovation dividends

“The largest gains have been made by Amazon, Apple and Tencent,” Sirimanne continued. “This is not surprising given that a very small number of very large firms provided most of the digital solutions that we have used to cope with various lockdowns and travel restrictions.”

Expressing optimism about the potential for developing countries to be carried along with the new wave of digitalisation rather than be swamped by it, the UNCTAD economist downplayed concerns that increasing workforce automation risked putting people in poorer countries out of a job.

This is because “not all tasks in a job are automated, and, most importantly, that new products, tasks, professions, and economic activities are created throughout the economy”, Sirimanne said.

‘Job polarization’

“The low wages …for skills in developing countries plus the demographic trends will not create economic incentives to replace labour in manufacturing – not yet.”

According to UNCTAD, over the past two decades, the expansion in high and low-wage jobs – a phenomenon known as “job polarization” – has led to only a single-digit reduction in medium-skilled jobs in developed and developing countries (of four and six per cent respectively).

“So, it is expected that low and lower-middle income developing countries will be less exposed to potential negative effects of AI and robots on job polarization”, Sirimanne explained.

Nonetheless, the UN trade and development body cautioned that there appeared to be little sign of galloping inequality slowing down in the new digital age, pointing to data indicating that the income gap between developed and developing countries is $40,749 in real terms today, up from $17,000 in 1970.

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