COMMENT: Fitch sees severe global recession in 2009

By bne IntelliNews November 14, 2008

Brian Coulton of Fitch Ratings -

In our latest Global Economic Outlook, we predict that the world's major advanced economies - US, UK, Eurozone and Japan - will next year experience the steepest decline in GDP since World War II. In aggregate, GDP growth in these countries is expected to be (minus) -0.8% in 2009, compared with an estimated 1.1% for 2008. Tighter credit conditions, consumer retrenchment and falling corporate investment are expected to combine to deliver an unusually synchronised downturn across the advanced economies.

World GDP will grow by just 1% next year - the slowest rate since the early 1990s - and compared with an average of 3.5% over the last five years. The combination of recession in developed countries, lower commodity prices and reduced international capital flows will result in a sharp slowdown in growth in emerging markets, though most will avoid outright recession.

The rapid intensification of the global credit crisis in the last two months and clearer evidence of household retrenchment, declining corporate investment intentions and falling world trade growth explain the sharp deterioration in the outlook since Fitch's previous Global Economic Outlook was published on July 4 2008. These factors far outweigh the benefits to income growth in the advanced economies from the decline in commodity prices.

Recession driven by a contraction in the supply of credit is uncharted territory for the world economy and there are few historical parallels on which to gauge its possible depth or length. However, the aggressive expansion of central bank liquidity provision since early September, in combination with major fiscal injections into the US and European banking systems will head off the worst-case scenario of widespread deflation. Nevertheless, the process of de-leveraging by households and companies is now underway and this will weigh on spending for some time. Declining asset prices, rising unemployment and job uncertainty will result in higher desired household saving rates, while the deterioration in the cost and availability of household credit will push the adjustment further and faster. Business investment is also likely to fall sharply, consistent with its highly pro-cyclical nature as companies anticipate weak final demand and face tough borrowing conditions.

The recent widening of the credit crisis to emerging markets dampens the prospects of companies in the advanced economies switching sales strategies to the developing world as the US consumer retrenches. This will also weigh on investment. In particular, the increasingly likely prospect of a hard landing in eastern Europe will hit German export growth, which has been a mainstay of its recent recovery. Fitch also expects growth in China to slow to just over 7% in 2009, its lowest rate for nearly two decades. Even so, it expects growth in Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICs) overall to be 5.7%, reflecting policy flexibility, external financial strengths and structural factors.

The decline of inflationary pressures from the commodity markets is positive news. It will allow the European Central Bank and the Bank of England to bring down interest rates rapidly, which will ease the de-leveraging process and help banks' profitability. In concert, fiscal policy will also cushion the shock to growth as governments absorb an increasing share of global liquidity through higher borrowing and inject it back into the economy through tax cuts or higher spending. Indeed, the macroeconomic policy response, along with the boost to real incomes from lower commodity prices, forms an important part of the expectation for recovery in 2010. This will, however, be to a rate well below that seen in the last five years, when credit was abundant.

Growth in Russia is expected to slow to 4% next year down from recent rates of 7% to 8%. The abrupt decline in capital inflows will weigh on domestic credit growth and raise the cost of funds, while lower oil prices will reduce income. However, the authorities do have policy flexibility and have used their vast stocks of foreign-currency reserves to ease external funding pressures on the banks, reducing the risk of a hard landing. The non-oil economy has relatively low exposure to declining world trade, while fiscal policy will support domestic demand.

Brian Coulton is a managing director and head of EMEA Sovereigns and Global Economics in the Sovereign Group for Fitch Ratings

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