NEW YORK – The global economy this year will exhibit some similarities with the conditions that prevailed in 2012. No surprise there: we face another year in which global growth will average about 3%, but with a multi-speed recovery – a sub-par, below-trend annual rate of 1% in the advanced economies, and close-to-trend rates of 5% in emerging markets. But there will be some important differences as well.
Painful deleveraging – less spending and more saving to reduce debt and leverage – remains ongoing in most advanced economies, which implies slow economic growth. But fiscal austerity will envelop most advanced economies this year, rather than just the eurozone periphery and the United Kingdom. Indeed, austerity is spreading to the core of the eurozone, the United States, and other advanced economies (with the exception of Japan). Given synchronized fiscal retrenchment in most advanced economies, another year of mediocre growth could give way to outright contraction in some countries.
With growth anemic in most advanced economies, the rally in risky assets that began in the second half of 2012 has not been driven by improved fundamentals, but rather by fresh rounds of unconventional monetary policy. Most major advanced economies’ central banks – the European Central Bank, the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, and the Swiss National Bank – have engaged in some form of quantitative easing, and they are now likely to be joined by the Bank of Japan, which is being pushed toward more unconventional policies by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s new government.
Moreover, several risks lie ahead. First, America’s mini-deal on taxes has not steered it fully away from the fiscal cliff. Sooner or later, another ugly fight will take place on the debt ceiling, the delayed sequester of spending, and a congressional “continuing spending resolution” (an agreement to allow the government to continue functioning in the absence of an appropriations law). Markets may become spooked by another fiscal cliffhanger. And even the current mini-deal implies a significant amount of drag – about 1.4% of GDP – on an economy that has grown at barely a 2% rate over the last few quarters.