Fresh worries on growth as IMF, World Bank meets open

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Fresh worries on growth as IMF, World Bank meets open

Fresh worries of slowing growth and potential turbulence from a global flood of liquidity will be in focus when the world’s central bankers and finance ministers gather beginning Thursday for the spring meetings of the IMF, World Bank and G20.

By (AFP)

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Published: Thu 18 Apr 2013, 4:01 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 4:54 AM

There will not be the air of crisis of last year — when there was fear the eurozone would break up and that the US economy would be forced into contraction by the extreme austerity of the “fiscal cliff.”

But going into the Washington meetings, the stress of years of trying to motor large economies back to growth from the financial crisis and protect smaller ones from the turbulence appears to have grown.

Finger-pointing about excessive austerity and lack of support for demand, of unmanageable capital flows stoked by central banks pumping out money, of competitive devaluations, excessive sovereign debt and papered-over banking weaknesses were all in the open ahead of the meetings.

Much of the pointing was done by the International Monetary Fund itself, which, while counting some of the improvements of the last year, still displayed deep concerns, especially about the continued recession in the eurozone.

“Global prospects have improved again, but the road to recovery in the advanced economies will remain bumpy,” the IMF said in its World Economic Outlook this week.

“In the medium term, the key risks relate to adjustment fatigue, insufficient institutional reform, and prolonged stagnation in the euro area as well as high fiscal deficits and debt in the United States and Japan.

“In this setting, policymakers cannot afford to relax their efforts.”

Generally, the IMF has said, the leading economies are on an unhealthy three-speed recovery. Emerging countries are growing steadily, the US is still in an only sluggish expansion, and Europe is stagnating.

“Given the strong interconnections between countries, an uneven recovery is also a dangerous one. In some ways, the world economy is as weak as its weakest link,” IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard said.

Washington has made its own agenda clear for the meetings: stressing the need to avoid countries, as they pump out liquidity to promote growth, from sinking into a battle of competitive devaluations.

And at the same time, Washington is prodding countries to ignite growth by stirring up domestic demand — even as it cuts its own spending.

“With the forecast for global growth seeing a very marginal improvement over last year, a central focus of these discussions is to be on supporting demand,” a senior US Treasury official said earlier this week.

“Protracted anemic demand in Europe is a growing concern. The world has an immense stake in growth resuming in the euro area.”

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew visited Europe last week to press that case, especially for the strongest European economies — principally Germany.

But days after he left, German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested Berlin could not do much more.

After having already made a huge effort to boost its economy in 2009 with a stimulus effort, Merkel said that now, “we do not have the strength for a second economic package without losing international confidence.”

Europe is locked in its own debate over whether the severe austerity problems pushed on the “periphery” countries — Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Cyprus — are now exacerbating the problem, and should be lightened.

But a European source said the eurozone will not be a focus of discussions. The official did say, however, that a subject of strong interest will be how advanced countries, and Japan in particular, plan to exit from their extraordinary “accommodative” monetary policies.

Developing countries still have the same fears as last year. The first, that the Group of 20 powers and the IMF are not solving their problems, and the second, that their solutions — printing money — are making it hard for them to manage their own economies, because of volatile capital flows and currency appreciation.

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