The World Economic Forum’s Community of Chief Economists expect reduced growth, stubbornly high inflation and real wages to continue falling for the remainder of 2022 and 2023, with seven out of 10 considering a global recession to be at least somewhat likely. These are the key findings of the Forum’s quarterly Chief Economists Outlook, published today.
Prospects for the global economy have deteriorated further since the May 2022 edition of this report, with expectations for growth pared back across all regions. Almost nine out of 10 of the chief economists expect growth in Europe to be weak in 2023, while moderate growth is expected in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the US, South Asia and Latin America.
The grim outlook for growth is being driven in part by high inflation, which has triggered sharp monetary tightening across many economies. With the exception of China and the MENA region, most of the chief economists surveyed expect high inflation to persist for the remainder of 2022, with expectations somewhat moderating in 2023.
The cost of living crisis bites
As the high cost of living reverberates around the world, the chief economists are in agreement that wages will fail to keep pace with surging prices in 2022 and 2023, with nine in 10 expecting real wages to decline in low-income economies during that period, alongside 80% in high-income economies. With household purchasing power weakening, the majority of the chief economists expect poverty levels across low-income countries to increase, compared with 60% in high-income countries.
“Growing inequality between and within countries is the ongoing legacy of COVID, war and uncoordinated policy action. With inflation soaring and real wages falling, the global cost of living crisis is hitting the most vulnerable hardest. As policymakers aim to control inflation while minimizing the impact on growth, they will need to ensure specific support to those who need it most. The stakes could not be higher,” says Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director at the World Economic Forum.
The cost of living crisis is driving concerns around energy and food prices. The chief economists are particularly concerned in relation to sub-Saharan Africa and the MENA region, with 100% and 63% of respondents, respectively, expecting food insecurity, with a significant number of respondents also expecting food insecurity in South Asia and Central Asia (47%, both). Most concerningly, 79% of the respondents expect rising costs to trigger social unrest in low-income countries versus 20% in high-income economies.
Debt dynamics deteriorate
The chief economists almost unanimously agree that the risk of sovereign debt default in lower-income economies is increasing. This is in contrast with high-income economies where one in four flagged debt default as an increasing factor in 2022. But as interest rates continue to rise, 42% of respondents expect debt servicing costs to exert a significant drag on growth over the next three years versus 84% for low-income economies. In this context, about one-third of respondents said that high-income countries no longer have the fiscal space to deal with another macroeconomic shock, compared with three-quarters for low-income countries.
Global fragmentation deepens
Geopolitics is expected to dominate macroeconomic and financial developments in the years ahead, according to those surveyed. Almost nine out of 10 expect heightened geopolitical risk to have a significant impact on global economic activity over the next three years, and only slightly fewer (85%) expect business strategies to be similarly affected.
A significant proportion of the respondents (69%) also expect to see geopolitical tensions affect global financial markets over the three-year horizon. Most respondents expect fragmentation to increase, especially in technology (80% of respondents) and goods (70%), with a more moderate outlook for labour (60%), services (58%) and finance (52%).
Most of the chief economists expect businesses to take decisive action in response to global developments: 80% expect businesses to adapt their supply chains to geopolitical developments. Four out of five chief economists expect businesses to pursue supply chain diversification and localization (also 80%) over the next three years, with long-term implications for costs to consumers.