WASHINGTON: Surging inflation and severe slowdowns in the United States and China prompted the IMF on Tuesday to downgrade its outlook for the global economy this year and next, while warning that the situation could get much worse.

“The outlook has darkened significantly since April,” said IMF chief economist Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas. “The world may soon be teetering on the edge of a global recession, only two years after the last one. The world’s three largest economies, the United States, China and the euro area are stalling with important consequences for the global outlook,” he said at a briefing.

In its latest World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund cut the 2022 global GDP estimate to 3.2 per cent, four-tenths of a point lower than the April forecast, and about half the rate seen last year.

Last year’s “tentative recovery” from the pandemic downturn “has been followed by increasingly gloomy developments in 2022 as risks began to materialise,” the report said.

“Several shocks have hit a world economy already weakened by the pandemic,” including the war in Ukraine which has driven up global prices for food and energy, prompting central banks to raise interest rates sharply, the IMF said. Ongoing Covid-19 lockdowns and a worsening real estate crisis have hindered economic activity in China, while the Federal Reserve’s aggressive interest rate hikes are slowing US growth sharply.

But the IMF offered a stark caveat to the forecasts, cautioning that “risks to the outlook are overwhelmingly tilted to the downside,” and if they materialise could push the global economy into one of the worst slumps in the past half-century.

Key among the concerns is the fallout from the war in Ukraine including the potential for Russia to cut off natural gas supplies to Europe, as well as a further spike in prices and a food shortage due to the chokehold the war has on grain supplies that could trigger famine.

In an ominous warning, the WEO said “such shocks could, if sufficiently severe, cause a combination of recession accompanied by high and rising inflation (‘stagflation’)”. That would slam the brakes on growth, slowing it to 2.0pc in 2023.

While the global economy did a bit better than expected in the first three months of the year, it appears to have “shrunk in the second quarter — the first contraction since 2020”, the IMF said.

The IMF downgraded growth forecasts for most countries, including big revisions for the United States and China, cutting more than a point off the prior forecasts.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2022

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