Sluggish investment; rising commodity prices causing ‘volatility trap’: Goldman Sachs

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IMF chief calls inflation ‘present danger’ to world; economic growth expected to slow down — Macro Snapshot

RIYADH: The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank predicted slow growth for the global economy and the MENA region. 

The war in Ukraine is prompting the International Monetary Fund to cut global growth estimates for both 2022 and 2023 as higher food and energy prices pressure fragile economies, the IMF’s managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, said on Thursday.

Georgieva said in a “curtain raiser” speech for next week’s IMF and World Bank spring meetings that the fund would downgrade its growth outlooks for 143 economies representing 86 percent of global economic output, but said most countries will maintain positive growth.

Georgieva, who previously warned that the war would drag on growth this year, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was “sending shockwaves throughout the globe” and dealing a massive setback to countries struggling to recover from the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic.

She called high inflation “a clear and present danger’’ to the global economy.

MENA growth to be ‘uneven and insufficient’

Economic growth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is forecast to be “uneven and insufficient” this year, as oil exporters benefit from surging prices while higher food prices hit the whole region, the World Bank said on Thursday.

The war in Ukraine is also disrupting supplies and fueling already-high inflation, it said.

GDP in the region is forecast to rise 5.2 percent this year after an estimated 3.3 percent expansion last year and 3.1 percent contraction in 2020, the World Bank said in a report, noting its own and others’ forecasts had been overly optimistic in the past decade.

Gasoline lifts US retail sales 

US retail sales increased in March, mostly boosted by higher gasoline and food prices, but consumers are showing signs of cutting back on discretionary spending amid high inflation.

Retail sales rose 0.5 percent last month, the Commerce Department said on Thursday. Data for February was revised higher to show sales gaining 0.8 percent instead of 0.3 percent as previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales increasing 0.6 percent, with estimates ranging from as low as a 0.3 percent decline to as high as 2.2 percent jump.

Though soaring prices are reducing consumers’ purchasing power, rising wages are helping to cushion some of the hit from high inflation.

The unemployment rate is at a two-year low of 3.6 percent and there were a near record 11.3 million job openings at the end of February, which economists said made it easier for some cash-strapped Americans to take a second job or pick up extra shifts.

Better job security is also allowing some consumers to take on more debt. Another buffer against inflation is also coming from the massive savings accumulated during the pandemic.

ECB sticks to tightening plans 

The European Central Bank stuck to plans on Thursday to finally end its stimulus program in the third quarter but gave no further clues on its schedule, stressing uncertainties linked to the war in Ukraine.

The noncommittal tone of its statement pushed eurozone bond yields and the single currency lower as markets trimmed expectations for the extent of rate hikes later this year.

“We will maintain optionality, gradualism and flexibility in the conduct of our monetary policy,” ECB President Christine Lagarde told an online news conference, speaking from home where she is recovering from a coronavirus infection.

Turkish lira holds losses 

The Turkish lira was on Thursday unmoved by the central bank’s decision to hold its policy rate at 14 percent, while Russia’s rouble slipped ahead of planned easing in capital controls next week.

The lira was down 0.2 percent at 14.61 a dollar after the widely expected central bank move, which came even as annual inflation was estimated to rise beyond the current 61 percent.

The increase in price pressures has been driven by rising energy costs and supply shocks, but inflation should start to ease due to the central bank’s actions, it said

Ukraine economy

Ukraine’s central bank said on Thursday that the economy could contract by at least one-third in 2022 and inflation could exceed 20 percent, reflecting the impact of Russia’s invasion.

In a statement, the central bank said it would postpone a decision on its key interest rate for the second time since the war started on Feb. 24.

It added that maintaining a fixed exchange rate remained important for now but that it would return to a floating rate as soon as the currency market could balance itself.

Nepal to miss growth target

Nepal will fall short of its growth target, a top government official said on Thursday, underscoring the troubled state of an economy grappling with a pandemic-induced loss of tourism, a widening trade deficit and soaring commodity prices.

This month, the Himalayan nation of 29 million people imposed curbs on imports of luxury goods in a bid to rein in outflows of its dwindling foreign exchange reserves and suspended its central bank governor, stoking concerns about a potential economic crisis.

Nepal’s gross domestic product target of 7 percent growth for the financial year to mid-July will be missed and growth could be “limited to only 4 percent,” a senior government official with the direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The official was not authorized to speak to media and declined to be identified.

China’s GDP growth 

China’s economic growth is likely to slow to 5.0 percent in 2022 amid renewed COVID-19 outbreaks and a weakening global recovery, a Reuters poll showed, raising pressure on the central bank to ease policy further.

The forecast growth for 2022 would be lower than the 5.2 percent analysts tipped in a Reuters poll in January, suggesting the government faces an uphill battle in hitting this year’s target of around 5.5 percent. Growth is then forecast to pick up to 5.2 percent in 2023.

GDP likely grew 4.4 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to the median forecasts of 41 economists polled by Reuters, outpacing the fourth-quarter’s 4.0 percent due to a solid start in the first two months.

South Korea steps up inflation fight 

South Korea’s central bank raised its benchmark rate to the highest since August 2019 on Thursday in a surprise move as it ramped up the fight against rampant inflation, which threatens its economic recovery.

In its first ever rate review held without a governor, the bank’s monetary policy board voted to raise interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point to 1.5 percent, an outcome less than half of economists foresaw in a Reuters poll.

Joo Sang-yong, acting chairman of the six-member policy board, said the bank could not to wait for the formal appointment of a new governor to continue efforts to slow inflation and warned price growth was likely to top 4 percent for a while, up from its February forecast of 3.1 percent.

Singapore tightens policy 

Singapore’s central bank tightened its monetary policy on Thursday, saying the widely forecast move will slow inflation momentum as the city state ramps up its battle against soaring prices made worse by the Ukraine war and global supply snags.

The policy tightening, the third in the past six months, came as separate data showed Singapore’s economic momentum waning over the first quarter.

“The door is definitely not closed yet,” said Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC, referring to another potential tightening in October.

Australian unemployment 

Australia’s unemployment rate held at a 13-year low in March as jobs growth slowed after months of strong gains, though record-high vacancies suggest it is only a matter of time before unemployment falls further.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday showed a jobless rate of 4.0 percent, when analysts had looked for a drop to 3.9 percent and the lowest reading since 1974.

That will be a disappointment to Prime Minister Scott Morrison who was hoping a sub-4 number would bolster his economic credentials amid a close election campaign.

It might also ease pressure on the Reserve Bank of Australia to lift interest rates next month, though markets are still wagering the first hike in a decade will come in June.

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