IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath on October 15 2019 in Washington, DC. Picture: AFP/OLIVIER DOULIERY
IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath on October 15 2019 in Washington, DC. Picture: AFP/OLIVIER DOULIERY

Washington — The International Monetary Fund (IMF) made a fifth-straight cut to its 2019 global growth forecast, citing a broad deceleration across the world’s largest economies as trade tensions undermine expansion.

The world economy will grow 3% in 2019, down from 3.2% seen in July, with the 2020 estimate lowered to 3.4% from 3.5%, the fund said on Tuesday in its latest “World Economic Outlook”. The forecast for this year will be the weakest since 2009, when the world economy shrank, as the fund chopped projections from the US and Europe to China and India.

“With a synchronised slowdown and uncertain recovery, the global outlook remains precarious,” IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath wrote in the report. “There is no room for policy mistakes and an urgent need for policy makers to co-operatively de-escalate trade and geopolitical tensions.”

The latest dimming of the outlook, just before annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington this week, reflects the economic costs of higher tariffs. Officials from around the world will convene as US President Donald Trump’s trade policies remain one of the biggest global threats. Investors are awaiting more clarity on whether a breakthrough in the US-China talks last week will ease global uncertainties.

The global growth estimate for 2019 was as high as 3.9% in mid-2018. The IMF cited subdued economic momentum and weaker investment, slashing its estimate for the growth in trade volume to a “near standstill” pace of just 1.1% from 3.6% last year, though it also sees a pickup to 3.2% in 2020.

The IMF report said “risks seem to dominate the outlook”, but recent monetary easing in many countries “could lift demand more than projected, especially if trade tensions between the US and China ease and a no-deal Brexit is averted”.

Those threats and others have prompted warnings from both global institutions as new leadership takes over. Bulgarian economist Kristalina Georgieva, previously World Bank CEO, took over as IMF CEO on October 1, succeeding Christine Lagarde. World Bank president David Malpass was selected in April.

Georgieva painted a downbeat picture in her first major address last week, saying a deeper slowdown could require co-ordinated fiscal stimulus. She has said her first priority is to help member nations lower the risk of crises and cope with potential downturns.

Business leaders are more circumspect too. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon also took a cautious tone on the global economy on Tuesday, calling out trade tensions and geopolitical issues as the bank reported its third-quarter earnings.

Growth estimates

IMF economists dimmed their views across the largest economies. The fund cut its US 2019 growth estimates by 0.2 percentage points to 2.4%, but raised it by the same margin to 2.1% for 2020.

Euro-area growth was reduced this year and next, to 1.2% and 1.4%, respectively. Estimates for Germany, France, Italy and Spain were lowered for both years. This year’s UK growth forecast was reduced to 1.2%. China projections were reduced for both years, to 6.1% and 5.8%, respectively.

The IMF says continued policy support in major economies and stabilisation in some stressed emerging economies are expected to lift growth modestly over the rest of 2019 and into 2020.

“The world economy faces difficult headwinds,” the outlook said. “Despite the recent decline in long-term interest rates creating more fiscal room, the global environment is expected to be characterised by relatively limited macro-economic policy space to combat downturns and weaker trade flows, in part reflecting the increase in trade barriers and anticipated protracted trade policy uncertainty.”

With Vince Golle