Anthony Rowley In Tokyo
9 January 2008
Business Times Singapore
(c) 2008 Singapore Press Holdings Limited
Developing countries robust enough to pull advanced economies along
EAST Asia and Pacific economies will be hardly deflected from their growth path this year by fallout from the US sub-prime mortgage crisis, the World Bank says in its latest Global Economic Prospects report published today.
It also maintains an upbeat tone about prospects for the global economy, arguing that developing country growth in Asia and elsewhere is robust enough to pull advanced economies along. This optimism echoes that expressed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last month in its latest Economic Outlook, and in the World Bank's East Asia and Pacific Update last November.
But the bank does acknowledge growing risks, such as that of a sudden collapse of the dollar or even the failure of a 'key' financial system. So far, the sub-prime crisis and related financial market distress have taken only a slight toll on the world economy, the latest report says.
Global growth slowed 'modestly' last year to 3.6 per cent from 3.9 per cent in 2006 and should decline gently again this year, to 3.3 per cent, it argues. 'World output should pick up in 2009, expanding by 3.6 per cent as the US economy regains momentum.'
GDP in East Asia and the Pacific is expected to grow about 10 per cent in 2007, with China set to grow by more than 11 per cent. Growth for the region should ease to 9.7 per cent in 2008 and 9.6 per cent by 2009.
'Effects from turmoil in world financial centres may be small in most economies in the region. Except in China, direct exposure of financial institutions in the region to mortgage-based securities or the sub-prime crisis is limited,' says the report.
Growth in South Asia edged down slightly in 2007 to 8.4 per cent, with industrial production and GDP growth driven by strong domestic demand. 'An expansion of credit, rising incomes, and strong worker remittances are buoying private consumption.'
Meanwhile, 'improvements in business sentiment along with rising corporate profits are providing a further boost', the World Bank says. Growth in Latin America should also ease only slightly this year while output is predicted to expand in 2008 in the Middle East and much of Africa, owing to high oil prices and to strong domestic demand.
'Overall, we expect developing country growth to moderate only somewhat over the next two years,' commented Uri Dadush, director of the World Bank's development prospects group.
'Strong import demand across the developing countries is helping to sustain global growth,' said Hans Timmer, manager of the global trends team in the development prospects group. 'As a result, and given a cheaper US dollar, American exports are expanding rapidly. This is helping to shrink the US current account deficit and contributing to a decline in global imbalances.'
The World Bank admits, however, that 'a much sharper US slowdown is a real risk that could weaken mid-term prospects in developing countries'. A US recession, or an excessive easing of US monetary policy could contribute to further sharp declines in the dollar, it notes.
'A weaker dollar would benefit developing countries with dollar debt but impose losses on those holding dollar-denominated assets. It would hurt the competitiveness of firms exporting to the US.
However, 'the main impact of a precipitous decline in the dollar would likely stem from the increased uncertainty and financial market volatility it would provoke'. Recent financial turbulence has shown how 'sudden and pervasive adjustments in financial markets can be', the report says.
'Because the dynamics of financial behaviour are inherently difficult to control, and new securitised instruments have made identifying the location or magnitude of underlying risk difficult, the possibility of a breakdown in a key financial institution or system cannot be fully discounted.'
To date, the report adds, 'strong fundamentals in developing countries have helped mitigate the slowdown in the US but in the case of a major disruption, adverse effects in emerging markets are unlikely to be avoided, which at some point would exacerbate the US slowdown'.