IMF Upgrades Global Economic Outlook as Inflation Eases

WASHINGTON — The International Monetary Fund said on Monday that it expected the global economy to slow this year as central banks continued to raise interest rates to tame inflation, but it also suggested that output would be more resilient than previously anticipated and that a global recession would probably be avoided.

The I.M.F. upgraded its economic growth projections for 2023 and 2024 in its closely watched World Economic Outlook report, pointing to resilient consumers and the reopening of China’s economy as among the reasons for a more optimistic outlook.

The fund warned, however, that the fight against inflation was not over and urged central banks to avoid the temptation to change course.

“The fight against inflation is starting to pay off, but central banks must continue their efforts,” Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, the I.M.F.’s chief economist, said in an essay that accompanied the report.

Global output is projected to slow to 2.9 percent in 2023, from 3.4 percent last year, before rebounding to 3.1 percent in 2024. Inflation is expected to decline to 6.6 percent this year from 8.8 percent in 2022 and then to fall to 4.3 percent next year.

After a succession of downgrades in recent years as the pandemic worsened and Russia’s war in Ukraine intensified, the I.M.F.’s latest forecasts were rosier than those the fund released in October.

Since then, China abruptly reversed its “zero Covid” policy of lockdowns to contain the pandemic and embarked on a rapid reopening. The I.M.F. also said that the energy crisis in Europe had been less severe than initially feared and that the weakening of the U.S. dollar was providing relief to emerging markets.

The I.M.F. predicted previously that a third of the world economy could be in recession this year. However, Mr. Gourinchas said in a news briefing ahead of the release of the report that far fewer countries were now facing recessions in 2023 and that the I.M.F. was not forecasting a global recession.

“We are seeing a much lower risk of recession, either globally, or even if we think about the number of countries that might be in recession,” Mr. Gourinchas said.

Despite the more hopeful outlook, global growth remains weak by historical standards and the war in Ukraine continues to weigh on activity and sow uncertainty. The report also cautions that the global economy still faces considerable risks, warning that “severe health outcomes in China could hold back the recovery, Russia’s war in Ukraine could escalate and tighter global financing costs could worsen debt distress.”

Growth in rich countries is expected to be particularly sluggish this year, with nine out of 10 advanced economies likely to have slower growth than they had in 2022.

The I.M.F. projects growth in the United States to slow to 1.4 percent this year from 2 percent in 2022. It expects the jobless rate to rise from 3.5 percent to 5.2 percent next year, but that it is still possible that a recession can be avoided in the world’s largest economy.

“There is a narrow path that allows the U.S. economy to escape a recession altogether, or if it has a recession, the recession would be relatively shallow,” Mr. Gourinchas said.

The slowdown in Europe will be more pronounced, the I.M.F. said, as the boost from the reopening of its economies fades this year and consumer confidence frays in the face of double-digit inflation. In the euro area, growth is projected to slow to 0.7 percent from 3.5 percent.

China is projected to pick up the slack with output accelerating to 5.2 percent in 2023 from 3 percent in 2022.

Combined, China and India are expected to account for about half of global growth this year. I.M.F. officials said at a press briefing on Monday night that China’s economic trajectory would be a major driver for the world economy, noting that after a period of flux, China appears to have stabilized and is able to fully produce.

However, Mr. Gourinchas noted that there were still signs of weakness in China’s property market and that its growth could moderate in 2024. The report described the sector as a “major source of vulnerability” that could lead to widespread defaults by developers and instability in the Chinese financial sector.

A surprising contributor to global growth is Russia, suggesting that efforts by Western nations to cripple its economy appear to be faltering. The I.M.F. predicts Russian output to expand 0.3 percent this year and 2.1 percent next year, defying earlier forecasts of a steep contraction in 2023 amid a raft of Western sanctions.

A coordinated plan by the United States and Europe to cap the price of Russian oil exports at $60 a barrel is not expected to substantially curtail the country’s energy revenues.

“At the current oil price cap level of the Group of 7, Russian crude oil export volumes are not expected to be significantly affected, with Russian trade continuing to be redirected from sanctioning to non-sanctioning countries,” the I.M.F. said in the report.

Among the I.M.F.’s most pressing concerns is the growing trend toward “fragmentation.” The war in Ukraine and the global response have divided nations into blocs and reinforced pockets of geopolitical tension, threatening to hamper economic progress.

“Fragmentation could intensify — with more restrictions on cross-border movements of capital, workers and international payments — and could hamper multilateral cooperation on providing global public goods,” the I.M.F. said. “The costs of such fragmentation are especially high in the short term, as replacing disrupted cross-border flows takes time.”

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