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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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Cash flow the biggest problem facing business during COVID-19 crisis

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A new report  on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic  on businesses shows that their greatest challenges have been insufficient cash flow to maintain staff and operations, supplier disruptions and access to raw materials.

With businesses already undergoing significant competitive pressure prior to the crisis, government restrictions, health challenges and the economic fall-out brought by COVID-19 further set back many enterprises.

Interrupted cash flow was the greatest problem, the survey found. More than 85 per cent reported the pandemic had a high or medium financial impact on their operations. Only a third said they had sufficient funding for recovery. Micro and small enterprises (those with 99 employees or fewer) were worst affected.

The survey, carried out by Employers and Business Membership Organizations (EBMOs), involved more than 4,500 enterprises in 45 countries worldwide. EBMOs gathered data from their enterprise members between March and June 2020. The businesses were asked about operational continuity, financial health, and their workforce.

At that time, 78 per cent of those surveyed reported that they had changed their operations to protect them from COVID-19, but three-quarters were able to continue operating in some form despite measures arising from government restrictions. Eighty-five per cent had already implemented measures to protect staff from the virus.

Nearly 80 per cent said they planned to retain their staff – larger companies were more likely to say this. However, around a quarter reported that they anticipated losing more than 40 per cent of their staff.

Looking into the future, preparing for unforeseen circumstances and mitigating risks associated with a disruption of business operations is needed. Fewer than half the enterprises surveyed had a business continuity plan (BCP) when the pandemic hit, with micro and small businesses the least likely to have made such preparations. Additionally, only 26 per cent of the enterprises who responded said they were fully insured and 54 per cent had no coverage at all. Medium-sized enterprises, (those with 100 to 250 employees), were most likely to have full or partial coverage.

Strengthening government support measures for enterprises are also vital for their recovery. Four out of ten enterprises said they had no funding to support business recovery while two-thirds said funding was insufficient. Of the sectors analysed, the tourism and hospitality sector, followed by retail and sales, were most likely to report funding issues.

The report production was facilitated by EBMOs who collected and shared the survey data with the Bureau for Employers’ Activities  (ACT/EMP) at the International Labour Organization. ACT/EMP is a specialized unit within the ILO Secretariat that maintains close and direct relations with employers’ constituents.

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Lithuania: COVID-19 crisis reinforces the need for reforms to drive growth and reduce inequality

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Effective containment measures, a well-functioning health system and swift public support to firms and households have helped Lithuania to weather the COVID-19 crisis to date. That said, the pandemic still carries significant economic risks, and the recent upsurge in infections is very concerning. Once a recovery is under way, Lithuania should aim to reform public companies, strengthen public finances, and ensure that growth benefits all people and regions, according to a new OECD report. 

The OECD’s latest Economic Survey of Lithuania says that prior to COVID-19, good economic management and an investment-friendly business climate were helping to lift average Lithuanian incomes closer to advanced country levels. While the recession provoked by the virus has been milder than elsewhere – with GDP projected to drop by 2% in 2020 before rebounding by 2.7% in 2021 – Lithuania’s small and open economy will be vulnerable to any prolonged disruption to world trade. Increasing public investment and improving governance at state-owned enterprises could help lift growth and productivity. Other reforms should focus on improving the effectiveness of spending and taxation. Over the longer term, Lithuania should establish a clear debt reduction path and a long-term debt target.

“Lithuania’s sound economic management of recent years, and its swift response to both the health and economic aspects of the pandemic, are helping the country to weather the COVID-19 crisis,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “It is now key to build on these achievements and restart the reform engine to ensure robust, sustainable and inclusive growth for the future.”

The pandemic has exposed high levels of income inequality in Lithuania, where relative poverty is high among the unemployed, the less educated, single parents and older people due to a tax-benefit system that is insufficiently redistributive. The Survey recommends Lithuania to continue providing temporary support to people and businesses hit by COVID-19, as well as to increase regular social support while retaining incentives to work.

In terms of support to the economy, the Survey notes that while Lithuania’s government spending has increased considerably over the past two years, it remains below the OECD average. Public investment also remains low. Given the importance of modernising infrastructure and stimulating crisis-hit demand, the Survey recommends maintaining or increasing current levels of investment and improving investment quality by carrying out rigorous cost-benefit analysis for individual projects. Increasing investment in rural areas, and giving local government more say in tax policy and spending, could help reduce regional disparities and promote inclusive growth.

The Survey also recommends phasing out environmentally damaging fossil fuel subsidies and increasing environmental taxation, which would benefit public finances while helping the shift to a lower-carbon economy.

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United States confirms its leading role in the fight against transnational corruption

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The United States continues to demonstrate an increasing level of anti-bribery enforcement, having convicted or sanctioned 174 companies and 115 individuals for foreign bribery and related offences under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) between September 2010 and July 2019. The United States is thus commended for a significant upward trend in enforcement and confirming the prominent role it plays globally in combating foreign bribery.

The 44-country OECD Working Group on Bribery has just completed its Phase 4 evaluation of the United States’ implementation of the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions and related instruments.

Given developments since the United States’ last evaluation in 2010, the Working Group made a range of recommendations to the United States, including to:

  • Consider ways to enhance protections for whistleblowers who report potential FCPA anti-bribery violations by non-issuers and provide further guidance on available whistleblower protections;
  • Continue to further evaluate and refine policies and guidance concerning the FCPA;
  • Make publicly available the extension and completion of NPAs and DPAs with legal persons in foreign bribery matters as well as the grounds for extending DPAs in FCPA matters;
  • Continue to evaluate the effectiveness of the Corporate Enforcement Policy in particular in terms of encouraging self-disclosure and of its deterrent effect on foreign bribery; and
  • Continue to address recidivism through appropriate sanctions and raise awareness of its impact on the choice of resolution in FCPA matters.

The report praises the United States for its sustained commitment to enforcing its foreign bribery offence as well as its key role in promoting the implementation of the Convention. This achievement results from a combination of enhanced expertise and resources to investigate and prosecute foreign bribery, the enforcement of a broad range of offences in foreign bribery cases, the effective use of non-trial resolution mechanisms, and the development of published policies to incentivise companies’ co-operation with law enforcement agencies.

The report also notes a large number of positive developments and good practices, such as the DOJ’s reliance on several theories of liability to hold both companies and individuals responsible for foreign bribery, and the United States’ successful co-ordination that has allowed multi-agency resolutions against alleged offenders in FCPA matters. In parallel, the United States has increasingly sought to co-ordinate and co-operate in investigating and resolving multijurisdictional foreign bribery matters with other jurisdictions. Finally, the United States has helped foreign partners build their capacity to fight foreign bribery through joint conferences and peer-to-peer training thus enabling the law enforcement authorities of these countries to better investigate and sanction prominent foreign bribery cases.

The United States’ Phase 4 report was adopted by the OECD Working Group on Bribery on 16 October 2020. The report lists the recommendations the Working Group made to the United States on pages 111-113, and includes an overview of recent enforcement activity and specific legal, policy, and institutional features of the United States’ framework for fighting foreign bribery. In accordance with the standard procedure, the United States will submit a written report to the Working Group within two years (October 2022) on its implementation of all recommendations and its enforcement efforts. This report will also be made publicly available.

The report is part of the OECD Working Group on Bribery’s fourth phase of monitoring, launched in 2016. Phase 4 looks at the evaluated country’s particular challenges and positive achievements. It also explores issues such as detection, enforcement, corporate liability, and international co-operation, as well as covering unresolved issues from prior reports.

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