Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Double-dip recession unlikely

DESPITE the global economic recovery since the second half of 2009, a minority of observers continue to forecast a double-dip recession, at least in the United States. These include respected economists such as Paul Krugman of Princeton and Robert Shiller of Yale. Theirs is, however, not the mainstream view - which holds that while a slowdown in the second half of 2010 is likely, a recession is not on the cards.

What does the evidence suggest so far? Certainly, there are grounds for concern. US unemployment is stubbornly stuck at close to 10 per cent. The effects of the 2009 economic stimulus programme are now waning. The housing market - a key forward-looking indicator - has yet to turn around.

In a recent speech to a banking conference, US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke served a sobering reminder. Despite the fact that the economy is expanding, 'we have a considerable way to go to achieve a full recovery', he said. The most recent estimates of retail sales and consumer confidence have also not been good. Tellingly, the pace of the recovery has slowed from an annualised rate of 3.7 per cent in the first quarter to 2.4 per cent in the second quarter.

Over in Europe, there has been much bad news this year, particularly relating to the sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone. This has led to austerity programmes being put in place in several countries, the effects of which we have yet to see.

However, the picture is not all dire. Some of the latest data out of the US, from the Institute of Supply Management, suggests that manufacturing activity expanded for the 12th consecutive month in July. Second-quarter GDP rose 2.4 per cent quarter-on-quarter, beating many analysts' expectations. And on the corporate front, more than 75 per cent of the over 300 companies in the S&P 500 have reported results that have also beaten the average estimates of analysts.

Even Europe has shown some upside surprises. Thanks partly to the weaker euro, the German economy is enjoying an export-led revival. The country's central bank, the Bundesbank, expects 1.9 per cent growth this year, which again is better than earlier anticipated. Germany's growth will vitally help at least cushion the downturn in the eurozone.

The brightest spot of the global economy is Asia, particularly China and India, where growth forecasts remain rosy for this year: close to 10 per cent for China and 8.5 per cent for India.

For the global economy as a whole, last month the International Monetary Fund (IMF) revised up its growth forecast to 4.6 per cent in 2010 from 4.2 per cent in April - although it did note that 'downside risks have risen sharply amid renewed financial turbulence'.

Given what we have witnessed over the last two years, it would be imprudent to rule out unpleasant surprises, including a double-dip recession. But on the weight of the evidence, and with loose monetary policies still in place, this looks unlikely - at least for now.

Source: Business Times, 4 Aug 2010

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