Winter 2021 Economic Forecast: A challenging winter, but light at the end of the tunnel
Europe remains in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. The resurgence in the number of cases, together with the appearance of new, more contagious strains of the coronavirus, have forced many Member States to reintroduce or tighten containment measures. At the same time, the start of vaccination programmes throughout the EU provides grounds for cautious optimism.
Economic growth poised to recover as containment measures ease
The Winter 2021 Economic Forecast projects that the euro area economy will grow by 3.8% in both 2021 and 2022. The forecast projects that the EU economy will grow by 3.7% in 2021 and 3.9% in 2022.
The euro area and EU economies are expected to reach their pre-crisis levels of output earlier than anticipated in the Autumn 2020 Economic Forecast, largely because of the stronger than expected growth momentum projected in the second half of 2021 and in 2022.
After strong growth in the third quarter of 2020, economic activity contracted again in the fourth quarter as a second wave of the pandemic triggered renewed containment measures. With those measures still in place, the EU and euro area economies are expected to contract in the first quarter of 2021. Economic growth is set to resume in the spring and gather momentum in the summer as vaccination programmes progress and containment measures gradually ease. An improved outlook for the global economy is also set to support the recovery.
The economic impact of the pandemic remains uneven across Member States and the speed of the recovery is also projected to vary significantly.
Inflation outlook to remain subdued
The forecast projects that inflation in the euro area is set to increase from 0.3% in 2020 to 1.4% in 2021, before moderating slightly to 1.3% in 2022. The inflation forecast for the euro area and the EU has increased slightly for 2021 compared to the autumn but is, overall, expected to remain subdued. The delayed recovery is set to continue dampening aggregate demand pressures on prices. In 2021, it will be temporarily pushed up by positive base effects in energy inflation, tax adjustments – especially in Germany – and the impact of pent-up demand hitting some remaining supply constraints. In 2022, as supply adjusts and base effects taper out, inflation is expected to moderate again.
High uncertainty and significant risks remain
Risks surrounding the forecast are more balanced since the autumn, though they remain high. They are mainly related to the evolution of the pandemic and the success of vaccination campaigns.
Positive risks are linked to the possibility that the vaccination process leads to a faster-than-expected easing of containment measures and therefore an earlier and stronger recovery. Also, NextGenerationEU, the EU’s recovery instrument of which the centrepiece is the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), could fuel stronger growth than projected, since the envisaged funding has – for the most part – not yet been incorporated into this forecast.
In terms of negative risks, the pandemic could prove more persistent or severe in the near-term than assumed in this forecast, or there could be delays in the roll-out of vaccination programmes. This could delay the easing of containment measures, which would in turn affect the timing and strength of the expected recovery. There is also a risk that the crisis could leave deeper scars in the EU’s economic and social fabric, notably through widespread bankruptcies and job losses. This would also hurt the financial sector, increase long-term unemployment and worsen inequalities.
Members of the College said:
Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People said: “Today’s forecast provides real hope at a time of great uncertainty for us all. The solid expected pick-up of growth in the second half of this year shows very clearly that we are turning the corner in overcoming this crisis. A strong European response will be crucial to tackle issues such as job losses, a weakened corporate sector and rising inequalities. We will still have a great deal to do to contain the wider socio-economic fallout. Our recovery package will go a long way to supporting the recovery, backed up by vaccination roll-out and a likely upswing in global demand.”
Paolo Gentiloni, Commissioner for Economy said: “Europeans are living through challenging times. We remain in the painful grip of the pandemic, its social and economic consequences all too evident. Yet there is, at last, light at the end of the tunnel. As increasing numbers are vaccinated over the coming months, an easing of containment measures should allow for a strengthening rebound over the spring and summer. The EU economy should return to pre-pandemic GDP levels in 2022, earlier than previously expected – though the output lost in 2020 will not be recouped so quickly, or at the same pace across our Union. This forecast is subject to multiple risks, related for instance to new variants of COVID-19 and to the global epidemiological situation. On the other hand, the impact of Next Generation EU should provide a strong boost to the hardest-hit economies over the coming years, which is not yet integrated into today’s projections.”
The Winter 2021 Economic Forecast provides an update of the Autumn 2020 Economic Forecast which was presented in November 2020, focusing on GDP and inflation developments in all EU Member States.
This forecast is based on a set of technical assumptions concerning exchange rates, interest rates and commodity prices, with a cut-off date of 28 January 2021. For all other incoming data, including assumptions about government policies, this forecast takes into consideration information up until and including 2 February. Unless policies are credibly announced and specified in adequate detail, the projections assume no policy changes.
Crucially, the forecast hinges upon two important technical assumptions concerning the pandemic. First, it assumes that after a significant tightening in the fourth quarter of 2020, containment measures remain strict in the first quarter of 2021. The forecast assumes that containment measures will then begin to ease towards the end of the second quarter, and then more markedly in the second half of the year when the most vulnerable and an increasing share of the adult population should have been vaccinated. Second, it assumes that containment measures will remain marginal towards the end of 2021 with only targeted sectoral measures still present in 2022.
The incorporation of NextGenerationEU, including the RRF, in the forecast remains in line with the usual no-policy-change assumption and is unchanged from the Autumn Forecast. The forecast only incorporates those measures that have either been adopted or credibly announced and specified in sufficient detail, notably in national budgets. In practice, this means that the economic projections of only a few Member States take account of some measures expected to be financed under RRF.
This forecast takes into account that the EU and the United Kingdom agreed on a Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which is provisionally in application since 1 January 2021 and which includes a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
The European Commission’s next forecast will be the Spring 2021 Economic Forecast in May 2021.
Economic Diversification Away from Oil is Crucial for the Republic of Congo
Economic diversification away from oil is crucial for reversing recent economic setbacks in the Republic of Congo and put the country on a pathway to long-term prosperity, says the World Bank in its latest Country Economic Memorandum report on the country.
The cost of over-reliance on oil has been painfully apparent in the past decade. A seven-year recession, induced by the end of the last oil-boom cycle, has led to a dramatic drop in income per capita, shrunk the size of the economy and weakened long-term growth prospects. While oil prices have surged more recently, returning Congo’s economy to growth in 2022, the current development model is unlikely to deliver sustainable economic growth and productive jobs going forward.
Attaining sustainable development in Congo urgently requires efforts to diversify national assets, focusing on stronger institutions, development of human and physical capital, and a more balanced exploitation of natural resources, says the report, titled Congo’s Road to Prosperity: Building Foundations for Economic Diversification.
“Congo’s oil-driven growth model has run its course. In order to achieve its aspiration for a more diversified and inclusive model, it is crucial for Congo to strengthen its policy ambition and accelerate efforts to transition to a people-centered, diversified economy,” said Korotoumou Ouattara, World Bank Resident Representative for the Republic of Congo.
The report highlights the urgency of diversification actions. Congo’s oil production is expected to decline in the medium term due to the depletion of oil reserves and reduced external demand from the global transition to a low-carbon economy. While oil accounts for 40% of GDP, the sector employs only a fraction of the country’s workforce, with three-quarters of Congolese employed in the informal sector. Underinvestment in health, education, and physical infrastructure, as well as weak government institutions underscore the limits of fossil fuel-driven growth and the importance of economic diversification.
It identifies ways in which Congo can achieve its economic diversification objectives and recommends policy reforms and investments in the following priority areas:
- Remove barriers to competition by curbing state-owned enterprises’ market dominance, encouraging private sector participation in the electricity and telecommunications sectors, and modernizing competition law and enforcement capacity.
- Accelerate digital transformation by enabling private sector participation, developing regulatory and legal support for digital financial services and facilitating digital technology adoption, and building digital skills.
- Improve the supply of reliable electricity by restoring profitability, invigorating regulation, and investing in transmission and distribution.
- Enhance trade competitiveness and diversification by cutting tariffs, reviewing non-tariff measures, concluding regional trade negotiations, and strengthening local markets.
- Improve logistics efficiency by scrutinizing public-private partnership contracts and adopting unified information technology for maritime trade.
- Support ecotourism development by improving regulation and allocating funding to protect natural assets, strengthening regulatory and enforcement agencies, and expanding transport infrastructure and marketing.
“The recent oil price volatility is a strong reminder of the need for Congo to reduce its exposure to the boom-bust cycles of global commodity markets. Urgent policy actions to develop the non-oil sector, enable the private sector, and strengthen government institutions can help catalyze growth for a prosperous, resilient and sustainable future,” said Vincent Belinga, lead author of the report.
Solar Mini Grids Could Sustainably Power 380 million People in Africa by 2030
Solar mini grids can provide high-quality uninterrupted renewable electricity to underserved villages and communities across Sub-Saharan Africa and be the least-cost solution to close the energy access gap on the continent by 2030.
Climate action efforts can tap solar mini grids that offer a lower greenhouse gas emission alternative compared to diesel-fueled systems and kerosene-based appliances. The World Bank’s Mini Grids for Half a Billion People: Market Outlook and Handbook for Decision Makers notes that to realize the full potential of solar mini grids, governments and industry must work together to systematically identify mini grid opportunities, drive costs down, and overcome barriers to financing.
“Kenya has deployed mini grids to serve communities that are not connected to the main grid,” said Mr Davis Chirchir, Cabinet Secretary Ministry. “Currently we have about 62 mini grids that are fully operational and 28, which are under construction. We hope to deploy more mini grids to close the energy access gap and ensure universal access to electricity by 2030.”
In Sub-Saharan Africa, 568 million people still lack access to electricity. Globally, nearly 8 out of 10 people without electricity live in Africa. At the current rate of progress, 595 million Africans will remain unconnected in 2030.
“While Africa remains the least electrified continent, it also has the biggest potential for solar mini grid deployment,” said Gabriela Elizondo Azuela, Manager of the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP). “Solar mini grids can reach populations today that would otherwise wait years to be reached by the grid. They have the potential to transform the power sector in Sub-Saharan Africa. Through World Bank operations and advice to governments, ESMAP is helping take mini grids from a niche to a mainstream solution.”
The deployment of solar mini grids has markedly accelerated in Sub-Saharan Africa, from around 500 installed in 2010 to more than 3,000 installed today, and a further 9,000 planned for development over the next few years. This is the result of falling costs of key components, the introduction of new digital solutions, a large and expanding cohort of highly capable mini grid developers and growing economies of scale. In Africa, mini grids are on track to provide power at lower cost than many utilities. The cost of electricity produced by mini grids could be as low as $0.20/kWh by 2030, making it the least-cost solution for more than 60 percent of the population.
Important progress has been made in several African countries to accelerate the deployment of mini grids. In Nigeria, for example, a market-driven approach to mini grid development under the World Bank-supported National Electrification Project has catalyzed the deployment of more than 100 new solar-powered mini grids. In several countries such as Ethiopia and Zambia, new regulations and policy directives are making mini grids more attractive for private sector investment. In Kenya, a combination of geospatial planning, favorable policies and regulations, and a robust business model based on public-private partnership is underpinning the World Bank-supported Kenya Off-Grid Solar Access Project, which is targeting almost 150 new mini grids in areas with low electricity access rates.
Further acceleration is needed, however, to meet Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7). Powering 380 million people in Africa by 2030 will require the construction of more than 160,000 mini grids at a cumulative cost of $91 billion. At the current pace, only around 12,000 new mini grids serving 46 million people will be built by 2030 at a total investment cost of approximately $9 billion.
The World Bank has committed more than $1.4 billion to mini grids over the next seven years, through 38 projects in 29 countries. The investment plans of the World Bank’s portfolio include the deployment of 3,000 mini grids by 2029, with the expectation of bringing electricity to more than 13 million people. This investment commitment is expected to crowd in more than $1 billion of co-financing from private sector, government, and development partners. In countries where the World Bank has an investment commitment in mini grids, the Bank’s investment represents on average about 25 percent of the total investment in mini grids in each country from governments, the private sector, and development partners.
Produced by the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), the book, the Mini Grids for Half a Billion People: Market Outlook and Handbook for Decision Makers, identifies five market drivers that would help the mini grid sector achieve its full market and development potential:
- Reducing the cost of electricity from solar hybrid mini grids to $0.20/kWh by 2030, which would put life-changing power in the hands of half a billion people for just $10 per month.
- Increasing the pace of deployment to 2,000 mini grids per country per year, by building portfolios of modern mini grids instead of one-off projects.
- Providing reliable electricity service to customers and communities would generate the demand for 3 million income-generating appliances and machines and expand services at 200,000 schools and clinics.
- Leveraging development partner funding and government investment to “crowd in” private-sector finance, potentially raising $127 billion in cumulative investment from all sources for mini grids by 2030.
- Establishing enabling mini grid business environments in key access-deficit countries through light-handed and adaptive regulations, supportive policies, and reductions in bureaucratic red tape.
The handbook is the World Bank’s most comprehensive and authoritative publication on mini grids to date.
Global growth forecast to slow to 1.9% in 2023
Senior UN economists warned on Wednesday that intersecting crises are likely to add further damage to the global economy, with growth set to slow from three per cent in 2022 to 1.9 per cent this year.This will be one of the lowest growth rates in recent decades, apart from during the 2007-8 financial crisis and the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In most countries we expect that private consumption and investment will weaken due to inflation and higher interest rates”, said Ingo Pitterle, Senior Economist at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). “Several countries will see a mild recession before growth is forecast to pick up in the second half of this year and into 2024”.
The findings come amid the backdrop of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and resulting food and energy crises, surging inflation, debt tightening, as well as the climate emergency.
In the near term, the economic outlook is gloomy and uncertain with global growth forecast to moderately pick up to 2.7 per cent in 2024.
However, this is highly dependent on the pace and sequence of further monetary tightening – rising interest rates – the consequences of the war in Ukraine, and the possibility of further supply-chain disruptions.
Stronger fiscal measures needed
The report warns that the findings also threaten the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“This is not the time for short-term thinking or knee-jerk fiscal austerity that exacerbates inequality, increases suffering and could put the SDGs farther out of reach. These unprecedented times demand unprecedented action,” said António Guterres, UN Secretary-General.
“This action includes a transformative SDG stimulus package, generated through the collective and concerted efforts of all stakeholders,” he added.
Gloomy economic outlook
Both developed and developing countries are threatened with the prospects of recession during this year, according to the report.
Growth momentum significantly weakened in the United States, the European Union and other developed economies in 2022. This adversely impacted the rest of the global economy in multiple ways.
Tightening global financial conditions coupled with a strong dollar, exacerbated fiscal and debt vulnerabilities in developing countries.
The analysis found that over 85 per cent of central banks worldwide tightened monetary policy and raised interest rates in quick succession since late 2021, to tame inflationary pressures and avoid a recession.
Global inflation which reached a multi-decade high of about 9 per cent in 2022, is projected to ease but remain elevated at 6.5 per cent in 2023.
Weaker job recovery, rising poverty
The report found that most developing countries saw a slower job recovery in 2022 and continue to face relatively high levels of unemployment.
Disproportionate losses in women’s employment during the initial phase of the pandemic have not been fully reversed, with improvements mainly arising from a recovery in the informal sector.
Slower growth, coupled with elevated inflation and mounting debt vulnerabilities, threatens to further set back hard-won achievements in sustainable development, it warns.
DESA points out that already in 2022, the number of people facing acute food insecurity had more than doubled compared to 2019, reaching almost 350 million.
A prolonged period of economic weakness and slow income growth would not only hamper poverty eradication, but also constrain countries’ ability to invest in the SDGs more broadly, it states.
“The global community needs to step up joint efforts to avert human suffering and support an inclusive and sustainable future for all,” said Li Junhua, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for DESA.
International cooperation key
The report calls for governments to avoid fiscal austerity, which would stifle growth and disproportionately affect the most vulnerable groups, as well as hinder progress in gender equality and development prospects, for generations.
It calls for reallocation and reprioritization in public spending policy, through direct interventions that will create jobs and reinvigorate growth.
This will require strengthening social protection systems and ensuring continued support through targeted and temporary subsidies, cash transfers, and discounts on utility bills, and can be complemented with reductions in consumption taxes or customs duties, it states.
Investing in people
The report points to strategic public investments in education, health, digital infrastructure, new technologies and climate change mitigation and adaptation to achieve large social returns, accelerate productivity growth, and strengthen resilience to economic, social and environmental shocks.
It estimates that additional SDG financing needs in developing countries, amount to several trillion dollars per year.
Urgent stronger international commitment is urgently needed to expand access to emergency financial assistance; restructure and reduce debt burdens across developing countries; and scale up SDG financing, the report warns.
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