World Bank says global growth stabilizing but below pre-COVID levels

The sunset is seen from Paranaque City, March 7. The World Bank projects Philippine economic growth to average 5.8% in this year. — PHILIPPINE STAR/RUSSELL PALMA

WASHINGTON — The World Bank on Tuesday said the US economy’s stronger-than-expected performance has prompted it to lift its 2024 global growth outlook slightly but warned that overall output would remain well below pre-pandemic levels through 2026.

The World Bank said in its latest Global Economic Prospects report that the global economy would avoid a third consecutive drop in real GDP growth since a major post-pandemic jump in 2021, with 2024 growth stabilizing at 2.6%, unchanged from 2023.

That’s up 0.2 percentage point from the World Bank’s January forecast, largely on the strength of US demand.

“In a sense, we see the runway for a soft landing,” World Bank Deputy Chief Economist Ayhan Kose told Reuters in an interview, noting that sharply higher interest rates have brought down inflation without major job losses and other disruptions in the US or other major economies.

“That’s the good news. What is not good news is that we may be stuck in the slow lane,” Mr. Kose added.

The World Bank forecast global growth of 2.7% in both 2025 and 2026, a level well below the 3.1% global average in the decade prior to COVID-19. It also is forecasting that interest rates in the next three years will remain double their 2000-2019 average, keeping a brake on growth and adding debt pressure to emerging market countries that have borrowed in dollars.

Countries representing 80% of the world’s population and GDP output will see weaker growth through 2026 than they had prior to the pandemic, the report said.

“Prospects for the world’s poorest economies are even more worrisome. They face punishing levels of debt service, constricting trade possibilities and costly climate events,” said World Bank Chief Economist Indermit Gill, adding that those countries will continue to require international assistance to fund their needs.

The report contains an alternative “higher-for-longer” interest rate scenario, in which persistent inflation in advanced economies keeps interest rates about 40 basis points above the lender’s baseline forecast, cutting 2025 global growth to 2.4%.

US BUOYANTStrong demand and higher inflation readings in the US have delayed expectations for Federal Reserve rate cuts, and the US economy is defying predictions of a downturn for the second year in a row, according to the report. The World Bank is now forecasting 2.5% US growth for 2024 — matching the 2023 pace — and up sharply from the January forecast of 1.6%.

Mr. Kose said the US upgrade accounts for about 80% of the added global growth since the January forecast.

The World Bank also upgraded China’s 2024 growth forecast to 4.8% from 4.5% in January, largely on the back of increased exports that have offset soft domestic demand. But it forecast China’s growth will fall to 4.1% in 2025 amid weak investment and consumer confidence and an ongoing property sector downturn.

The World Bank retained its growth forecast for the East Asia and the Pacific region excluding China at 4.6% this year.

“Over the forecast horizon, GDP growth in most East Asia and the Pacific economies except China — including Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines — will be anchored by solid growth of private consumption supported by low inflation, declining borrowing costs, and firm labor market conditions,” it said.

The World Bank projects Philippine GDP growth to average 5.8% in this year and 5.9% both in 2025 and 2026.

“Heightened uncertainty, related in some cases to recent political transitions and conflict, and including about global trade policies, is expected to dampen private investment,” it said.

“In tandem, rising public debt—which exceeds pre-pandemic levels in most countries in the region— and budget approval delays are anticipated to constrain public investment growth in some economies.”

CONFLICT RISKSIn addition to the higher-for-longer rate scenario, the World Bank said the biggest downside risks to the global outlook included greater spillovers from armed conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine.

A wider war in the Middle East could cause further disruptions to shipping and push up oil prices and inflation. Likewise, more uncertainty about the path of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine could also disrupt markets for oil and grains, while choking investment into neighboring countries, the bank said.

Increasing trade restrictions driven by geopolitical rivalries also could hamper the recovery of global trade volume growth, which was barely perceptible last year at about 0.1%. The World Bank forecast a rebound to 2.5% in 2024, up from 2.3% in the January forecast.

But it said rising protectionism and industrial policies in many countries could lead to more inefficiencies in global supply chains and reduce investment into emerging markets and developing countries.

The World Bank also said a deeper downturn in China, the world’s second-largest economy, would hamper growth, especially in commodity exporters and trade-intensive economies.

On the upside, the World Bank said that the US could continue to surpass expectations, boosting global growth with lower inflation if elevated productivity and labor supply due to immigration prove persistent. Lower inflation globally, supported by productivity gains, improved supply chains and easing commodity prices, could prompt central banks to cut interest rates more quickly than now expected, boosting credit growth, the bank added. — Reuters with inputs from BMDC

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