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Slow Growth and Short Tails

NEW YORK – The global economy had another difficult year in 2013. The advanced economies’ below-trend growth continued, with output rising at an average annual rate of about 1%, while many emerging markets experienced a slowdown to below-trend 4.8% growth. After a year of subpar 2.9% global growth, what does 2014 hold in store for the world economy?

The good news is that economic performance will pick up modestly in both advanced economies and emerging markets. The advanced economies, benefiting from a half-decade of painful private-sector deleveraging (households, banks, and non-financial firms), a smaller fiscal drag (with the exception of Japan), and maintenance of accommodative monetary policies, will grow at an annual pace closer to 1.9%.

Moreover, so-called tail risks (low-probability, high-impact shocks) will be less salient in 2014. The threat, for example, of a eurozone implosion, another government shutdown or debt-ceiling fight in the United States, a hard landing in China, or a war between Israel and Iran over nuclear proliferation, will be far more subdued.

Still, most advanced economies (the US, the eurozone, Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada) will barely reach potential growth, or will remain below it. Households, banks, and some non-financial firms in most advanced economies remain saddled with high debt ratios, implying continued deleveraging. High budget deficits and public-debt burdens will force governments to continue painful fiscal adjustment. And an abundance of policy and regulatory uncertainties will keep private investment spending in check.