Last year at the IMF, I spoke about the global outlook in the context of three films. The first was ‘No Country for Old Men’, as the catchphrase of that film – “You can’t stop what’s coming” – described the imminent global recession. The second was ‘Apollo 13’, in which the head of mission control, Gene Krantz, is told, “This is NASA’s worst moment”. He replies that if the three astronauts are brought back to earth safely, it will be NASA’s best moment – and is proven right. Likewise, if the problems facing the financial sector were addressed properly and it emerged from the crisis in good shape, this would be an Apollo 13 moment for the financial industry.
The third film was ‘Singing in the Rain’, which aptly described the optimistic outlook for emerging markets at the time. But as I pointed out, while Gene Kelly did sing in the rain, he was completely soaked. And so it proved for emerging economies in the wake of last year’s crisis. While the outlook for many emerging regions looks good, they are not immune to setbacks in the West.
This year – given the general consensus, the risk of further shocks, and the fact that many countries have already used their policy tools to the full – I used three analogies related to natural events, things beyond our control: a flash of lightning, a tidal wave, and a volcanic eruption.
The U.S. recovery may be a flash of lightning
We are past the worst, and a recovery is here, but it is vital to focus on absolute levels. The world economy is just under $61 trillion in size; the U.S. economy is $14.3 trillion. If the West is not booming, emerging economies cannot boom. They can grow, but this requires self-sustained, domestically-driven demand. Although the next six months could be strong for the world economy as policy easing and inventory rebuilding feed through, beyond that, there are challenges.