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  • The International Monetary Fund has just released its World Economic Outlook

  • and its latest forecasts are dramatic.

  • The global economy is expected to contract by 3% in 2020, which would make the coronavirus crisis

  • the worst recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

  • So what are the main takeaways? Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?

  • I spoke with the IMF's chief economist to learn more.

  • The IMF's economic forecasts are a regular event in financial journalists' calendars.

  • Normally, I'd be in Washington D.C. with other journalists for a big press conference.

  • But like so many other aspects of our lives, this year's spring meetings have moved online.

  • Which is why chief economist Gita Gopinath and I connected via video conference to discuss

  • the organization's latest predictions.

  • I know this is a very busy week for you.

  • A lot going on, yes.

  • Economists' expectations for the economy have plummeted since the start of the year.

  • In January, just weeks after the first report of a new coronavirus,

  • the IMF predicted the economy would grow by 3.3% in 2020.

  • Just three months later, that has been revised down to negative 3%.

  • An adjustment of this scale in such a short period is exceptionally rare.

  • I was just wondering, what went through your head when you first looked at the figures.

  • We see these figures building up at every stage so it's not like there is an 'ah ha' moment.

  • We know when we see individual country estimates coming through, what's going on.

  • It's a truly global crisis. And the speed and the scale of it is really quite unparalleled.

  • In an effort to contain the deadly virus, governments around the world have called on

  • their citizens to stay home and effectively shut down the economy.

  • The Great Lockdown, as Gita and her team have called it, is a crisis like no other.

  • Why? Well, it is first and foremost a health emergency. Governments need to step up their

  • support to their respective health systems so they can cope with the outbreak.

  • Because this is a health emergency, policymakers can't stimulate the economy in ways they normally would.

  • Encouraging people to go out and spend their money isn't what you want

  • when you need them to stay home.

  • Uncertainty is also a factor. Just like a war, there is no clear end date for the pandemic

  • and the subsequent economic shock we're experiencing.

  • So, you can see why this is a different crisis to the one seen in 2008.

  • Back then, the epicentre of the problem was the financial system, but now every single industry is being impacted.

  • In the past when it was a collapse in housing prices or the bursting of the financial bubble,

  • it would be quick and then it would go away and economic policy would start fixing the problem.

  • But this time around it's a pandemic and a lot is going to depend on what happens in

  • public health, what happens with vaccines and therapeutics. And we've been talking

  • to epidemiologists and public health officials, and nobody can really tell us exactly

  • what will happen in the next few months.

  • According to the IMF, emerging markets and low-income nations in regions such as

  • Latin America, Africa and much of Asia will be hit the hardest.

  • With weaker healthcare systems and large populations packed into dense cities, social distancing

  • and life-saving treatments are less of an option for these countries.

  • Investors have also been pulling their money out of emerging markets, about $100 billion

  • in the last two months, leaving their financial systems in vulnerable positions.

  • Even within developed economies, the pandemic is putting massive pressure on labor markets.

  • The IMF estimates the unemployment rates will reach 10.4% in both the United States

  • and the eurozone this year.

  • What are the risks that we will see inequality becoming even a bigger problem of the aftermath of this crisis?

  • This is a crisis that's absolutely impacting poorer workers, daily wage workers,

  • those who are involved in the restaurant sector, in tourism.

  • You need countries to provide support to them, to get cash transfers to them. They have to

  • use whatever social protections exist, scale them up, expand them, make them more unconditional.

  • When you have a deep recession of this kind there is always, unfortunately, tremendous loss

  • of income for people at the lower end of the income scale, so poverty can go up,

  • inequality can go up.

  • To mitigate the economic impact of the virus, governments and central banks have announced

  • massive stimulus packages.

  • In the U.S., the Federal Reserve has offered more than $3 trillion in loans and asset purchases.

  • The U.S. Congress approved a $2.2 trillion stimulus package.

  • In Japan, the ruling party proposed the biggest ever stimulus program, worth more than $550 billion.

  • And in Europe, countries have set aside previous fiscal commitments so they can spend without limits.

  • In addition, the euro zone has also developed financial packages of around half a trillion dollars.

  • According to IMF figures, globally about $8 trillion have been made available

  • to support economies.

  • You have to keep in mind that of this $8 trillion, about $7 trillion is G20 economies

  • and a lot of this spending is happening in the richer parts of the world while the poorer nations

  • and the low income and the developing countries are having to battle this with much smaller resources.

  • So I think the first important step is for the international community to

  • support the recovery in developing economies and low-income countries.

  • We don't know how long this crisis will last, but we do know it will leave us

  • with a huge amount of debt.

  • Even prior to the pandemic, the Institute of International Finance warned

  • that global debt levels had hit a new record of $253 trillion.

  • What does this mean for future generations and do you think some of this debt could actually

  • be forgiven in the future?

  • This crisis calls for a large amount of public intervention, so we do predict that debt levels

  • will go up in all parts of the world and especially in advanced economies.

  • Now they are able to borrow at very low interest rates, so if those interest rates stay low

  • for the foreseeable future and we have the kind of recovery that we are projecting

  • in our baseline, then we can see sufficient tax revenue coming in that can control the level of debt.

  • Now on the other hand there will be countries for which these kinds of debt accumulations

  • will be damaging and for them, official creditors will have to consider forms of debt relief, debt restructuring.

  • A lot of countries remain in lockdown mode and some fear we could hit a peak in contagion

  • in the second half of the year.

  • But, provided countries are able to contain the virus and stabilize their economies

  • by the end of the year, the Fund is forecasting a “partial recoveryin 2021.

  • Staring down an economic crisis that could contend with the Great Depression is daunting,

  • to say the least. But Gita says we do have some things on our side nearly a century later.

  • We are certainly much better placed to deal with it now because of the kinds of health

  • systems that we have, they are much stronger in many parts of the world than at that time.

  • On the economic front, I think it makes a big difference that there are lenders of last resort,

  • that monetary policy is proactively able to come in to ensure sufficient liquidity in markets,

  • that fiscal policy is able to play a major role in supporting firms and households.

The International Monetary Fund has just released its World Economic Outlook

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Why we’re facing the worst recession since the Great Depression | CNBC Reports

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    Summer posted on 2020/04/23
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