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Low-Income Country Debt Rises to Record $860 Billion in 2020

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Governments around the world responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with massive fiscal, monetary, and financial stimulus packages. While these measures were aimed at addressing the health emergency, cushioning the impact of the pandemic on the poor and vulnerable and putting countries on a path to recovery, the resulting debt burden of the world’s low-income countries rose 12% to a record $860 billion in 2020, according to a new World Bank report.

Even prior to the pandemic, many low- and middle-income countries were in a vulnerable position, with slowing economic growth and public and external debt at elevated levels. External debt stocks of low- and middle-income countries combined rose 5.3% in 2020 to $8.7 trillion. According to the new International Debt Statistics 2022 report, an encompassing approach to managing debt is needed to help low- and middle-income countries assess and curtail risks and achieve sustainable debt levels.

“We need a comprehensive approach to the debt problem, including debt reduction, swifter restructuring and improved transparency,” said World Bank Group President David Malpass. “Sustainable debt levels are vital for economic recovery and poverty reduction.”

The deterioration in debt indicators was widespread and impacted countries in all regions. Across all low- and middle-income countries, the rise in external indebtedness outpaced Gross National Income (GNI) and export growth. Low- and middle-income countries’ external debt-to-GNI ratio (excluding China) rose to 42% in 2020 from 37% in 2019 while their debt-to-export ratio increased to 154% in 2020 from 126% in 2019.

In response to the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic and at the urging of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund, in April 2020, the G20 launched the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) to provide temporary liquidity support for low-income countries. The G-20 countries agreed to extend the deferral period through the end of 2021. In November 2020, the G20 agreed on a Common Framework for Debt Treatments beyond the DSSI, an initiative to restructure unsustainable debt situations and protracted financing gaps in DSSI-eligible countries.

Overall, in 2020, net inflows from multilateral creditors to low- and middle-income countries rose to $117 billion, the highest level in a decade. Net debt inflows of external public debt to low-income countries rose 25% to $71 billion, also the highest level in a decade.  Multilateral creditors, including the IMF, provided $42 billion in net inflows while bilateral creditors accounted for an additional $10 billion.

“Economies across the globe face a daunting challenge posed by high and rapidly rising debt levels,” said Carmen Reinhart, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank Group. “Policymakers need to prepare for the possibility of debt distress when financial market conditions turn less benign, particularly in emerging market and developing economies.”

Greater debt transparency is critical in addressing the risks posed by rising debt in many developing countries. To facilitate transparency, International Debt Statistics 2022 was expanded to provide more detailed and disaggregated data on external debt than ever before. The data now gives the breakdown of a borrowing country’s external debt stock to show the amount owed to each official and private creditor, the currency composition of this debt, and the terms on which loans were extended. For DSSI-eligible countries the dataset was expanded to include the debt service deferred in 2020 by each bilateral creditor and the projected month-by-month debt-service payments owed to them through 2021. The World Bank will also publish soon a new Debt Transparency in Developing Economies report that takes stock of debt transparency challenges in low-income countries and lays out a detailed list of recommendations to address them.

International Debt Statistics (IDS) is a longstanding annual publication of the World Bank featuring external debt statistics and analysis for the 123 low- and middle-income countries that report to the World Bank Debt Reporting System (DRS).

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Global growth forecast to slow to 1.9% in 2023

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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.

Needs soaring

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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2023 Deloitte Global Marketing Trends Report Outlines Opportunities in Uncertain Times

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With a new year comes new challenges, but also opportunities as business leaders and marketers set their sights on embracing trends and solutions that can set them up for success. Curated through surveys and in-depth conversations with more than 1,000 C-suite executives, Deloitte’s “2023 Global Marketing Trends” report offers guidance through uncertainties that business leaders may face, while presenting meaningful approaches to consider which may help propel businesses forward. The report focuses on four topics: financial uncertainty, sustainability, creativity and tech trends to watch. Listed are a few key recommendations marketers can consider going into 2023:

  • Invest in digital technologies, platforms, new markets and customer personalization.
  • Improve sustainability efforts within internal marketing practices and establish long-term commitments.
  • Make more room for creativity by bringing the rest of the organization along for the ride.
  • Consider laying the foundation for metaverse or blockchain adoption.

Why this matters

Amid fluctuating and uncertain economic indicators of 2023, marketers are focusing on investments that can help their organizations be resilient in the face of rapid change. As new platforms disrupt existing digital marketing models and slipping consumer confidence requires focused attention on customer loyalty and innovating new growth opportunities, the “2023 Global Marketing Trends” report offers inspiration and motivation to help bring considerable, creative and lasting impact. Marketers, business leaders and C-suite executives can glean insights from the report as they set their sights on what 2023 holds for the business. The report outlines solutions curated directly from leaders and CMOs alike who have ushered in their thoughts, predictions and guidance to help drive brands forward in an ever-changing world.

Key takeaways

Brands answer economic instability through investment: Brands surveyed continue to reiterate economic instability and inflation as a top concern as in 2023. But, instead of hedging their bets and cutting costs, brands are well-prepared to answer this instability and uncertainty with an investment mindset that grows their organization’s capabilities and capacity to be resilient in the face of rapidly changing economic conditions

Through interviewing, CMOs identified their top-three priorities in the face of a potential economic downturn:

  • Accelerating the move to new digital technologies or platforms (Metaverse, AI, social platforms, AR and digital currencies).
  • Expanding into new markets, segments, or geographies.
  • Implementing systems or algorithms to enhance customer personalization.

CMOs drive growth through internal sustainability efforts: As consumer concerns around sustainability issues grow, brands surveyed are now concentrating their efforts on shoring up their own internal sustainability practices. This focus inward is a strong sign that brands are looking to make a more authentic impact over the longer-term in order to build trust with consumers.

Brands reported that their top three priorities for sustainability efforts this year include: 

  • Improving sustainability of internal marketing practices (51%).
  • Promoting more sustainable product and service offerings (47%),
  • Establishing long-term sustainability commitments (e.g. “by 2030, our organization will…”) (45%).

Creativity as a force for growth: As noted in the 2022 “Creative Business Transformation study“, developed in partnership with Deloitte Digital and Cannes LIONS, there is a growing creativity gap through diminishing creative leadership in the C-suite and declining creativity skills among CMOs and their marketing talent. 2023 may present an opportunity for individual brands to rise above the competition by making more room for creativity. Research shows that high-growth brands (defined as those with annual revenue growth of 10% or more) are more likely than their negative-growth peers to have the mindset and processes in place that allow creativity to flourish.

CMOs might consider the following strategies to be the creative leader in their own organizations:

  • Redefine what creativity can offer.
  • Bring the rest of the organization along for the ride.
  • Inspire the organization to think differently.

Rising technologies to watch: Marketers are now faced with big decisions about when and how to invest in adopting cutting-edge marketing practices as new technologies take center stage as top trends for marketers to watch.

Marketers cited 2023 top trends by the numbers:

Metaverse: About 80% of marketing executives surveyed across the energy, resources, and industrials (ER&I) and life sciences and health care (LS&HC) industries are gravitating toward the metaverse within the next two years.

Digital Currencies: 41% of CMOs surveyed plan to support their advertising strategy with blockchain in the next 12 months.

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Weak Governance in MENA Region Worsens Deepening Land Crisis

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Weak governance exacerbates the deepening land crisis in the Middle East and North Africa region, according to a new World Bank report that urges broad reforms to improve land use and access amid increasing stress from climate change and population growth.

Titled “Land Matters: Can Better Governance and Management of Scarcity Prevent a Looming Crisis in the Middle East and North Africa?”, the report shows how continuing land deterioration in a region that is 84 percent desert worsens water scarcity issues that threaten food security and economic development.

“Now is the time to examine the impact of land issues that loom large in many public policy decisions but aren’t always explicitly acknowledged,” said Ferid Belhaj, the World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa. “Quite simply, land matters. MENA’s growing population and the impact of climate change add urgency to addressing the land crisis.”

The report uses satellite imagery data to show that cropland in MENA countries decreased by 2.4 percent over the 15-year period from 2003-2018, which was the world’s sharpest drop in a region that already had the lowest cropland per capita and little margin for agricultural expansion. During the same period, the MENA population increased by 35 percent and is estimated to expand by another 40 percent to 650 million people in 2050.

Comparing land cover data with statistics on wealth inequality and other indicators, the report shows a correlation between land degradation and poor governance. In addition, state ownership of land is highest in the MENA region, but governments fail to manage land assets in ways that generate public revenues, the report says, while access to land is a severe constraint for 23 percent of firms in the manufacturing and service sectors.

Also impeding land access are social norms and laws regarding property that are more unfavorable for women in the MENA region compared to other regions, according to the report. In particular, women in MENA countries come under strong social pressure to renounce their inheritance rights over property, often without fair compensation.

“You cannot achieve sustainable economic and social development if people and businesses lack proper access to land,” said Harris Selod, a World Bank senior economist and co-author of the report.

Reforms proposed by the report include establishing transparent market-driven processes to value and transfer land, as well as developing complete inventories of public land and improving the registration of land rights. These are necessary steps to support more efficient land use and land management decisions and to ensure that land serves social, economic and fiscal functions in a region where property taxes represent less than one percent of GDP.

Land policies can also help reduce gender inequalities. A tax on male beneficiaries when women renounce their inheritance rights to property could help reduce the gender gap, with the money collected funding initiatives promoting women’s empowerment, the report says.

“Increasing land scarcity leads to strategic trade-offs about the best use of land to meet competing economic, social, and sustainability objectives,” said Anna Corsi, a World Bank senior land administration specialist and co-author of the report. “However, the holistic approach needed to address core development issues of land policy is critically lacking in the MENA region.”

The report notes that land scarcity and governance issues vary throughout the region, with countries requiring approaches that are tailored to their unique challenges. For example, wealthy Gulf Cooperation Council countries face severe land scarcity but have better land administration, while the Maghreb countries as well as Iran, Iraq, and Syria are more seriously challenged by land governance issues with less severe land scarcity. A third group — Djibouti, Egypt, Yemen, and the West Bank and Gaza — faces serious challenges in both governance and scarcity of land.

In stressing that “land matters”, the report argues that urgently addressing the MENA land crisis now exacerbated by climate change and population growth is essential for the region’s sustainable economic and social development.  

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