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Global Growth: Modest Pickup to 2.5% in 2020 amid Mounting Debt and Slowing Productivity Growth

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Global economic growth is forecast to edge up to 2.5% in 2020 as investment and trade gradually recover from last year’s significant weakness but downward risks persist, the World Bank says in its January 2020 Global Economic Prospects.

Growth among advanced economies as a group is anticipated to slip to 1.4% in 2020 in part due to continued softness in manufacturing. Growth in emerging market and developing economies is expected to accelerate this year to 4.1%. This rebound is not broad-based; instead, it assumes improved performance of a small group of large economies, some of which are emerging from a period of substantial weakness. About a third of emerging market and developing economies are projected to decelerate this year due to weaker-than-expected exports and investment.

 “With growth in emerging and developing economies likely to remain slow, policymakers should seize the opportunity to undertake structural reforms that boost broad-based growth, which is essential to poverty reduction,” said World Bank Group Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions, Ceyla Pazarbasioglu. “Steps to improve the business climate, the rule of law, debt management, and productivity can help achieve sustained growth.”

U.S. growth is forecast to slow to 1.8% this year, reflecting the negative impact of earlier tariff increases and elevated uncertainty. Euro Area growth is projected to slip to a downwardly revised 1% in 2020 amid weak industrial activity.

Downside risks to the global outlook predominate, and their materialization could slow growth substantially. These risks include a re-escalation of trade tensions and trade policy uncertainty, a sharper-than expected downturn in major economies, and financial turmoil in emerging market and developing economies. Even if the recovery in emerging and developing economy growth takes place as expected, per capita growth would remain well below long-term averages and well below levels necessary to achieve poverty alleviation goals.

 “Low global interest rates provide only a precarious protection against financial crises,” said World Bank Prospects Group Director Ayhan Kose. “The history of past waves of debt accumulation shows that these waves tend to have unhappy endings. In a fragile global environment, policy improvements are critical to minimize the risks associated with the current debt wave.”

Analytical sections in this edition of Global Economic Prospects address key current topics:

The Fourth Wave: Recent Debt Buildup in Emerging and Developing Economies: There have been four waves of debt accumulation in the last 50 years. The latest wave, which started in 2010, has seen the largest, fastest, and most broad-based increase in debt among the four. While current low levels of interest rates mitigate some of the risks associated with high debt, previous waves of broad-based debt accumulation ended with widespread financial crises. Policy options to reduce the likelihood of crises and lessen their impact should they materialize include building resilient monetary and fiscal frameworks, instituting robust supervisory and regulatory regimes, and following transparent debt management practices.

Fading Promise: How to Rekindle Productivity Growth: Productivity growth, a primary source of income growth and driver of poverty reduction, has slowed more broadly and steeply since the global financial crisis than at any time in four decades. In emerging market and developing economies, the slowdown has reflected weakness in investment and moderating efficiency gains as well as dwindling resource reallocation between sectors. The pace of improvements in many key drivers of labor productivity—including education and institutions—has slowed or stagnated since the global financial crisis.

Price Controls: Good Intentions, Bad Outcomes: The use of price controls is widespread in emerging market and developing economies. While sometimes used as a tool for social policy, price controls can dampen investment and growth, worsen poverty outcomes, cause countries to incur heavy fiscal burdens, and complicate the effective conduct of monetary policy. Replacing price controls with expanded and better-targeted social safety nets, reforms to encourage competition and a sound regulatory environment can be pro-poor and pro-growth.  

Low for How Much Longer? Inflation in Low-Income CountriesInflation in low-income countries has tumbled to a median of 3% in mid-2019 from 25% in 1994. The decline has been supported by more flexible exchange rate regimes, greater central bank independence, lower government debt, and a more benign external environment. However, to maintain low and stable inflation amid mounting fiscal pressures and the risk of exchange rate shocks, policymakers need to strengthen monetary policy frameworks and central bank capacity and replace price controls with more efficient policies.

Regional Outlooks:

East Asia and Pacific: Growth in the region is projected to ease to 5.7% in 2020, reflecting a further moderate slowdown in China to 5.9% this year amid continued domestic and external headwinds, including the lingering impact of trade tensions. Regional growth excluding China is projected to slightly recover to 4.9%, as domestic demand benefits from generally supportive financial conditions amid low inflation and robust capital flows in some countries (Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam), and as large public infrastructure projects come onstream (the Philippines and Thailand). Regional growth will also benefit from the reduced global trade policy uncertainty and a moderate, even if still subdued, recovery of global trade. Regional data.

Europe and Central Asia: Regional growth is expected to firm to 2.6% in 2020, assuming stabilization of key commodity prices and Euro Area growth and recovery in Turkey (to 3%) and Russia (to 1.6%). Economies in Central Europe are anticipated to slow to 3.4% as fiscal support wanes and as demographic pressures persist, while countries in Central Asia are projected to grow at a robust pace on the back of structural reform progress. Growth is projected to firm in the Western Balkans to 3.6% — although the aftermath of devastating earthquakes could weigh on the outlook — and decelerate in the South Caucasus to 3.1%. Regional data.

Latin America and the Caribbean: Regional growth is expected to rise to 1.8% in 2020, as growth in the largest economies strengthens and domestic demand picks up at the regional level. In Brazil, more robust investor confidence, together with a gradual easing of lending and labor market conditions, is expected to support an acceleration in growth to 2%. Growth in Mexico is seen rising to 1.2% as less policy uncertainty contributes to a pickup in investment, while Argentina is anticipated to contract by a slower 1.3%. In Colombia, progress on infrastructure projects is forecast to help support a rise in growth to 3.6%. Growth in Central America is projected to firm to 3% thanks to easing credit conditions in Costa Rica and relief from setbacks to construction projects in Panama. Growth in the Caribbean is expected to accelerate to 5.6%, predominantly due to offshore oil production developments in Guyana. Regional data.

Middle East and North Africa: Regional growth is projected to accelerate to a modest 2.4% in 2020, largely on higher investment and stronger business climates. Among oil exporters, growth is expected to pick up to 2%. Infrastructure investment and business climate reforms are seen advancing growth among the Gulf Cooperation Council economies to 2.2%. Iran’s economy is expected to stabilize after a contractionary year as the impact of US sanctions tapers and oil production and exports stabilize, while Algeria’s growth is anticipated to rise to 1.9% as policy uncertainty abates and investment picks up. Growth in oil importers is expected to rise to 4.4%. Higher investment and private consumption are expected to support a rise to 5.8% in FY2020 growth in Egypt. Regional data.

South Asia: Growth in the region is expected to rise to 5.5% in 2020, assuming a modest rebound in domestic demand and as economic activity benefits from policy accommodation in India and Sri Lanka and improved business confidence and support from infrastructure investments in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. In India, where weakness in credit from non-bank financial companies is expected to linger, growth is projected to slow to 5% in FY 2019/20, which ends March 31 and recover to 5.8% the following fiscal year. In Pakistan’s growth is expected to rise to 3% in the next fiscal year after bottoming out at 2.4% in FY2019/20, which ends June 30. In Bangladesh, growth is expected to ease to 7.2% in FY2019/2020, which ends June 30, and edge up to 7.3% the following fiscal year. Growth in Sri Lanka is forecast to rise to 3.3%. Regional data

Sub-Saharan Africa: Regional growth is expected to pick up to 2.9% in 2020, assuming investor confidence improves in some large economies, energy bottlenecks ease, a pickup in oil production contributes to recovery in oil exporters and robust growth continues among agricultural commodity exporters. The forecast is weaker than previously expected reflecting softer demand from key trading partners, lower commodity prices, and adverse domestic developments in several countries. In South Africa, growth is expected to pick up to 0.9%, assuming the new administration’s reform agenda gathers pace, policy uncertainty wanes, and investment gradually recovers. Growth in Nigeria expected to edge up to 2.1% as the macroeconomic framework is not conducive to confidence. Growth in Angola is anticipated to accelerate to 1.5%, assuming that ongoing reforms provide greater macroeconomic stability, improve the business environment, and bolster private investment. In the West African Economic and Monetary Union, growth is expected to hold steady at 6.4%. In Kenya, growth is seen edging up to 6%.

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How the Pandemic Stress-Tested the Increasingly Crowded Digital Home

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The average U.S. household now has a total of 25 connected devices, across 14 different categories (up from 11 in 2019), including laptops, tablets and smartphones; video streaming devices and smart TVs; wireless headphones and earbuds; gaming consoles and smart home devices; and fitness trackers and connected exercise machines.

Thirty-one percent of Americans admit to feeling overwhelmed by the number of devices and subscriptions they need to manage.

Sixty-six percent of households have smart home devices; 39% of those smart home device owners paid for increased home internet speed.

More than 50% of U.S. adults had virtual doctor visits, and 82% of those who used virtual doctor visits claimed to be satisfied with the experience.

Fifty-eight percent of U.S. households have a smartwatch or fitness tracker, and 39% of consumers own one personally. Among device owners, 14% bought their smartwatch or fitness tracker since the start of the pandemic.

Seven-in-10 consumers who began smartphone-based retail behaviors, such as mobile ordering, during the pandemic intend to continue those behaviors.

Among respondents planning to switch mobile providers in the next year, the top reason is to access 5G service.

Why this matters
In March 2020, households became the center of daily American life — and connectivity took on newfound importance. With work, school, medical visits, fitness and retail shopping all crowding under one roof, rapidly shifting needs drove sudden demand for an evolving suite of connected devices and digital services. The second edition of “Deloitte’s Connectivity & Mobile Trends 2021 Survey,” an online survey of 2,009 U.S. consumers conducted in March 2021, saw households beginning to push the limits of connectivity. More consumers upgraded their home broadband, added Wi-Fi extenders, and expanded their mobile data plans. While connectivity providers and device makers quickly rallied to keep the nation connected and productive, many consumers were overwhelmed with managing a wide range of devices, services and communications suddenly necessary for life at home.

Homework takes on new meaning
Networks, services, devices and institutions rallied to effectively support the shift to working and schooling from home. Some had connectivity and technology issues but for many, human factors posed more of a challenge.

  • At the start of 2021, 55% of U.S. households included someone working from home and 43% had someone schooling from home. Top benefits of at-home behaviors were the ability to reduce the chances of getting COVID-19, closely followed by having no commute and being more comfortable.
  • Twenty-eight percent of home workers and 32% of home schoolers reported that they struggled to connect to the internet from certain locations in their home.
  • Workers at home cited the inability to meet face-to-face with colleagues or clients as a top challenge, followed by working longer hours than they would in-person, and being distracted by non-work activities. For home schoolers, the top challenge was getting distracted by non-school online activities, followed by not being able to meet face-to-face with teachers and classmates, and doing more schoolwork than if in-person.

Virtualized health care: a successful beta test
Recent growth in inexpensive and easy videoconferencing helped medical organizations overcome distance challenges to deliver much needed virtual house calls during the pandemic. The pandemic’s urgency also suspended some of the regulatory barriers that made it difficult for providers to connect virtually with patients. This was good news for consumers who felt virtual doctor visits helped them continue to receive care during the pandemic, while minimizing risk of exposure to themselves and to other patients.

  • More than 50% of U.S. respondents had virtual doctor visits, and 29% of adult respondents assisted someone else in their household with a virtual visit.
  • Eighty-two percent of those respondents using virtual doctor visits claimed to be satisfied with the experience.
  • Among the benefits of attending virtual medical visits, 44% cited ease in attending appointments, 43% said it reduced their chances of getting COVID-19, 20% said it was easier to schedule appointments, and 10% cited ease in sharing medical data with doctors.
  • Sixty-two percent said they are likely to schedule future virtual appointments after the pandemic ends.
  • However, patients missed the human touch and face-to-face interactions (28%) and were frustrated with medical staff’s inability to directly measure vital statistics (21% overall but higher among older patients).

Does this mean healthier innovation?
Success with virtual doctor visits may bode well for future health care innovation. As wearables advance to record more discrete health, fitness and wellness data, their ability to support health care providers will likely grow, along with many users’ desire to share more of this data with their providers.

  • Overall, 58% of households have a smartwatch or fitness tracker, and 39% of consumers own one personally. Among device owners, 14% bought their smartwatch or fitness tracker since the start of the pandemic.
  • The largest use reported is for health and fitness (55%), primarily to measure walking steps and athletic performance, track heart health, and monitor sleep and calories.
  • Among those interested in wearables, 39% listed cost as the primary reason they haven’t bought one — considerably larger than other factors. Yet, more seem to see the value of wearables, especially for health and fitness — 27% of those who don’t have a smartwatch or fitness tracker in their household are interested in buying one, up from 24% before COVID-19.
  • Sixty percent of users claim to not be particularly concerned about the privacy of their wearable-generated data.

Smartphones led to smart behaviors
Both in and out of the home, smartphones helped people get on with their lives while mitigating pandemic risks. Users adopted a range of new digital behaviors, including online mobile payment services, contactless store payments and shopping and buying online from local providers who offer home delivery or curbside pickup. These mobile solutions were available prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic further highlighted their value.

  • Using a mobile app or website to order food from a local provider grew from 36% to 56% during COVID-19.
  • Using a mobile app or website to order a product and then pick it up at a local store grew from 31% to 51%.
  • Contactless payments jumped from 28% to 46% during the pandemic; using mobile payments to shop on social media grew 28% to 42%.
  • Among those who began smartphone-based retail behaviors during the pandemic, around 70% intend to continue most of those behaviors.

A true test of connectivity
The survey also revealed that while connectivity held up remarkably well to the demands of unexpectedly crowded homes during the pandemic, many households had reached the limits of broadband, wireless and Wi-Fi networks. And with reduced movement outside the home during the pandemic, it’s not yet clear how well existing smartphones and mobile connectivity will serve post-pandemic behaviors.

Since the pandemic began, 19% of those with home internet had upgraded to a higher-speed home internet service and 8% switched providers.

Those who switched most often cited cost, followed closely by reliability, inadequate coverage throughout the home, and slow connectivity.

Around 70% of consumers said their home Wi-Fi met their needs for range and speed, but more have tried to fix dropouts and dead spots by extending their home networks. During the pandemic, 30% of home internet users purchased Wi-Fi extenders, 19% bought mobile hotspots, and 14% added mesh Wi-Fi networks.

Close to 40% of households with mobile data plans made some change to their mobile data plan since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Upgrading to a new phone was the highest driver for this, followed by switching to an unlimited data plan and adding 5G.

Sixty-six percent of respondents noted they have had their smartphone for at least a year, while 31% noted they plan on upgrading within a year.

Among respondents planning to switch mobile providers in the next year, the largest reason is to get 5G service, followed closely by getting better value for the price.

Among those who do not yet have 5G mobile coverage, 54% say they intend to eventually buy a 5G-compatible smartphone and 52% will sign up for a 5G mobile data plan with their carrier, when 5G becomes available.

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Zimbabwe’s Economy is Set for Recovery, but Key Risks Remain

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Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in Zimbabwe is projected to reach 3.9 percent in 2021, a significant improvement after a two-year recession, according to the World Bank Zimbabwe Economic Update (ZEU) launched today.

Economic growth this year will be led by recovery of agriculture as rains normalize, businesses adjust to limitations caused by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, and inflation slows down. However, disruptions caused by the pandemic will continue to weigh on economic activity in Zimbabwe, limiting employment growth and improvements in living standards.

The ZEU, Overcoming Economic challenges, Natural Disasters, and the Pandemic: Social and Economic Impacts, provides the World Bank perspective on macroeconomic and poverty developments and discusses ways to strengthen public service delivery in key sectors. This is the third economic update for Zimbabwe produced by the World Bank.  Economic Updates are a standard World Bank tool for macroeconomic and fiscal monitoring.

The ZEU notes that economic recovery is expected to strengthen further in 2022 with GDP growing at 5.1 percent as the deployment of vaccines intensifies and implementation of National Development Strategy 1 (2021-2025) bears fruits. Overall, the COVID-19 global contagion continues to pose significant downside risks, and thus the global and local outlook remains uncertain. A prolonged pandemic, weaker global demand, and heightened macroeconomic instability could choke economic growth, increase poverty, and worsen human capital development outcomes.

Mitigating these risks requires domestic policies to strengthen and sustain macroeconomic stability – which is critical for consolidating economic recovery. Recent efforts to stabilize prices through rule-based monetary and exchange rate policies have been effective and must be continued and expanded. Fiscal policies supportive of these efforts have thus focused on avoiding monetary financing and quasi-fiscal activities, reducing distortive subsidies, and improving fiscal and debt transparency.

“Improving the country’s growth prospects will require further attention to policies that strengthen the quality of service delivery in the social sectors. Preserving lives during an unprecedented that protects livelihoods, strengthens social protection, improves food security, and ensures better education outcomes,” said Mukami Kariuki, World Bank Country Manager.  

Facing tight public finances and limited recourse to external financing, Zimbabwe will need to rely mostly on reallocating domestic resources to optimal public uses and leveraging private financing and humanitarian support where possible. Addressing underlying challenges in health, education, social protection, and food security will require sustained financing, strengthened accountability frameworks and investments in appropriate management information systems.

The ZEU reviews developments in 2019 and 2020; and emerging trends in 2021. Part One of the ZEU provides an overview of the macroeconomic and poverty context. Part Two assesses the impact of COVID-19 and other exogenous shocks on delivery of basic services to the poor and proposes mitigating actions for discussion. It also summarizes key policy options needed to stabilize Zimbabwe’s economy, minimize the social costs of the transition, and prepare for an economic recovery.

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Slow jobs recovery and increased inequality risk long-term COVID-19 scarring

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The labour market crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, and employment growth will be insufficient to make up for the losses suffered until at least 2023, according to a new assessment by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2021  (WESO Trends) projects the global crisis-induced ‘jobs gap’ will reach 75 million in 2021, before falling to 23 million in 2022. The related gap in working-hours, which includes the jobs gap and those on reduced hours, amounts to the equivalent of 100 million full-time jobs in 2021 and 26 million full-time jobs in 2022. This shortfall in employment and working hours comes on top of persistently high pre-crisis levels of unemployment, labour underutilization and poor working conditions.

In consequence, global unemployment is expected to stand at 205 million people in 2022, greatly surpassing the level of 187 million in 2019. This corresponds to an unemployment rate of 5.7 per cent. Excluding the COVID-19 crisis period, such a rate was last seen in 2013.

The worst affected regions in the first half of 2021 have been Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe and Central Asia. In both, estimated working-hour losses exceeded eight per cent in the first quarter and six per cent in the second quarter, compared to global working-hour losses of 4.8 and 4.4 per cent in the first and second quarter, respectively.

Global employment recovery is projected to accelerate in the second half of 2021, provided that there is no worsening in the overall pandemic situation. However this will be uneven, due to unequal vaccine access and the limited capacity of most developing and emerging economies to support strong fiscal stimulus measures. Furthermore, the quality of newly created jobs is likely to deteriorate in those countries.

The fall in employment and hours worked has translated into a sharp drop in labour income and a corresponding rise in poverty. Compared to 2019, an additional 108 million workers worldwide are now categorized as poor or extremely poor (meaning they and their families live on the equivalent of less than US$3.20 per person per day). “Five years of progress towards the eradication of working poverty have been undone,” the report says, adding that this renders the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating poverty by 2030 even more elusive.

The COVID-19 crisis has also made pre-existing inequalities worse by hitting vulnerable workers harder, the report finds. The widespread lack of social protection – for example among the world’s two billion informal sector workers – means that pandemic-related work disruptions have had catastrophic consequences for family incomes and livelihoods.

The crisis has also hit women disproportionately. Their employment declined by 5 per cent in 2020 compared to 3.9 per cent for men. A greater proportion of women also fell out of the labour market, becoming inactive. Additional domestic responsibilities resulting from crisis lockdowns have also created the risk of a “re-traditionalization” of gender roles.

Globally, youth employment fell 8.7 per cent in 2020, compared with 3.7 per cent for adults, with the most pronounced fall seen in middle-income countries. The consequences of this delay and disruption to the early labour market experience of young people could last for years.

The pandemic’s impact on young people’s labour market prospects is laid out in greater detail in an ILO brief published alongside the WESO Trends. The Update on the youth labour market impact of the COVID-19 crisis  also finds that gender gaps in youth labour markets became more pronounced.

“Recovery from COVID-19 is not just a health issue. The serious damage to economies and societies needs to be overcome too. Without a deliberate effort to accelerate the creation of decent jobs, and support the most vulnerable members of society and the recovery of the hardest-hit economic sectors, the lingering effects of the pandemic could be with us for years in the form of lost human and economic potential and higher poverty and inequality,” said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder. “We need a comprehensive and co-ordinated strategy, based on human-centred policies, and backed by action and funding. There can be no real recovery without a recovery of decent jobs.”

As well as looking at working hour and direct employment losses, and foregone job growth, the WESO outlines a recovery strategy structured around four principles: promoting broad-based economic growth and the creation of productive employment; supporting household incomes and labour market transitions; strengthening the institutional foundations needed for inclusive, sustainable and resilient economic growth and development; and using social dialogue to develop human-centred recovery strategies.

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