More pain ahead: Global economic outlook worsens, survey shows

The outlook for a global economic recovery has worsened or at best stayed about the same over the past month, according to a majority of economists in Reuters polls, with the ongoing recession expected to be deeper than predicted in May.

World stocks fell to their lowest in more than a week on Thursday, as doubts about the recovery crept in, driven by a surge in coronavirus cases in many countries.

That includes the United States, which appeared to have gained some control over the pandemic in May, leading to several states lifting restrictions.

Along with increasing trade tensions, prospects of a second wave of the virus and the latest warning from the International Monetary Fund of a near five percent plunge in the global economy this year have raised fears the V-shaped recovery expected by financial markets is in jeopardy.

“The end of the worst quarter for Asian and global economies may be here. But, with second COVID-19 waves spreading in some countries and first-wave outbreaks not yet over in others, the economic slump has a long way to go,” Prakash Sakpal, senior Asia economist at Dutch bank ING, said in a research note sent to Al Jazeera.

Reuters polls of more than 250 economists taken this month showed continuing recessions in most developed economies would be deeper than predicted last month, leaving unemployment rates well above pre-COVID levels even by the end of next year.

When asked how the global economic recovery outlook had changed over the past month, 80 percent, or 71 of nearly 90 economists, said it had worsened or at best stayed the same.

The remaining respondents said it had improved, despite global gross domestic product (GDP) forecasts for this year in the wider poll down from a month ago and roughly the same in a worst-case scenario.

Not out of the woods yet

“We see three kinds of risks going forward. The first is that the virus comes back. That could trigger a reversal of the reopening process. The second risk is monetary and/or fiscal fatigue,” said Ethan Harris, head of global economics research at Bank of America.

“Governments have been very aggressive in countering the shock. However, monetary policy is now scraping the bottom of the policy barrel. More fiscal stimulus is likely to come in major developed economies, but it could be slower and smaller. The third risk is the second-round shock could be even worse than we assume.”

The world economy was forecast to shrink by 3.7 percent this year and grow by 5.4 percent next year, compared to a contraction of 3.2 percent and growth of 5.4 percent, respectively, in the previous poll.

While that median consensus for this year is less pessimistic than the IMF’s projection of -4.9 percent, in a worst-case scenario in the latest poll the global economy was forecast to shrink by 6.0 percent.

“Even with recent bright signs, the initial drop is much deeper than post-2008. While tens of millions of new jobs will likely be created between now and year-end, a quicker jobs recovery is not a V,” noted Ajay Rajadhyaksha, head of macroeconomic research at British lender Barclays.

“We expect global [GDP] to surpass pre-COVID levels only in late 2021, and later still for advanced economies. And much could still go wrong, especially if the virus has a second wave.”

At the same time, the world’s biggest central banks were not expected to achieve their inflation targets even within three years.

Indeed, if anything, the bigger threat is stagnating or falling consumer prices once the pandemic subsides rather than an increase, according to a separate Reuters survey of economists on the global inflation outlook.

That raises the question of what options policymakers have left.

“As the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, talk has turned to ‘helicopter money’ and ‘debt monetisation’,” noted David Mackie, an economist at JP Morgan.

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