As the old year gives way to the new, papers have been full of economic forecasts for the coming year. This year is no exception. The authors of the articles below give their predictions of what is to come for the global economy and, for the most part, their forecasts are relatively optimistic – but not entirely so. Despite a sunny outlook, there are various dark clouds on the horizon.
Most forecasters predict a higher rate of global economic growth in 2014 than in 2013 – and higher still in 2015. The IMF, in its October forecasts, predicted global growth of 3.6% in 2014 (up from 2.9% in 2013) and 4.0% in 2015.
Some countries will do much better than others, however. The USA, the UK, Germany and certain developing countries are forecast to grow more strongly. The eurozone as a whole, however, is likely to see little in the way of growth, as countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy continue with austerity policies in an attempt to reduce their debt. Chinese growth has slowed, as the government seeks to rebalance the economy away from exports and investment in manufacturing towards consumption, and services in particular. It is still forecast to be 7.3% in 2014, however – well above the global average. Japanese growth has picked up in response to the three arrows of fiscal, monetary and supply-side policy. But this could well fade somewhat as the stimulus slows. The table shows IMF growth forecasts for selected countries and groups of countries to 2018.
Much will depend on what happens to monetary policy around the world. How quickly will monetary stimulus taper in the USA and in Japan? Will the ECB introduce more aggressively expansionary monetary policy? When will the Bank of England start raising interest rates?
Growth within countries is generally favouring those on higher incomes, with the gap between rich and poor set to continue widening over the coming years. The pay of top earners has continued to rise considerably faster than prices, while increasingly flexible labour markets and squeezed welfare budgets have seen a fall in living standards of many on low incomes. According to a Which? survey (reported in the Independent article below), in the UK:
Only three in ten expect their family’s situation to improve in the new year, while 60% said they are already dreading the arrival of their winter energy bill. The Which? survey also found that 13 million people could afford to pay for Christmas only by borrowing, with more than four in ten using credit cards, loans or overdrafts to fund their festive spending. A third of people (34%) also dipped into their savings, taking an average of £450 from their accounts.
If recovery is based on borrowing, with real incomes falling, or rising only very slowly, household debt levels are likely to increase. This has been stoked in the UK by the ‘Help to Buy‘ scheme, which has encouraged people to take on more debt and has fuelled the current house price boom. This could prove damaging in the long term, as any decline in confidence could lead to a fall in consumer expenditure once more as people seek to reduce their debts.
And what of the global banking system? Is it now sufficiently robust to weather a new crisis. Is borrowing growing too rapidly? Is bank lending becoming more reckless again? Are banks still too big to fail? Is China’s banking system sufficiently robust? These are questions considered in the articles below and, in particular, in the New York Times article by Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Global economy: hopes and fears for 2014The Observer, Heather Stewart and Larry Elliott (29/12/13)
Looking ahead to 2014 BBC News, Linda Yueh (20/12/13)
Low hopes for a happy new financial year in 2014 Independent, Paul Gallagher (29/12/13)
Brisk UK economic growth seen in 2014 fuelled by spending – Reuters poll Reuters, Andy Bruce (12/12/13)
GLobal Economy: 2014 promises faster growth, but no leap forward Reuters, Andy Bruce (29/12/13)
My 2014 Economic Briefing Huffington Post, Tony Dolphin (27/12/13)
Three UK Economy Stories that will Dominate in 2014 International Business Times, Shane Croucher (27/12/13)
Who You Calling a BRIC? Bloomberg, Jim O’Neill (12/11/13)
Hope and Hurdles in 2014 Project Syndicate, Pingfan Hong (27/12/13)
On top of the world again The Economist (18/11/13)
Digging deeper The Economist (31/10/13)
BCC Economic Forecast: growth is gathering momentum, but recovery is not secure British Chambers of Commerce (12/13)
Eight predictions for 2014 Market Watch, David Marsh (30/12/13)
Stumbling Toward the Next Crash New York Times, Gordon Brown (18/12/13)
Central banks must show leadership to rejuvenate global economy The Guardian, Larry Elliott (1/1/14)
Global economy set to grow faster in 2014, with less risk of sudden shocks The Guardian, Nouriel Roubini (31/12/13)
A dismal new year for the global economy The Guardian, Joseph Stiglitz (8/1/14)
Forecasts and reports
World Economic Outlook (WEO) IMF (October 2013)
Economic Outlook OECD (November 2013)
Output, prices and jobs The Economist
Bank of England Inflation Report: Overview Bank of England (November 2013)
- What reasons are there to be cheerful about the global economic prospects for 2014 and 2015?
- Who will gain the most from economic growth in the UK and why?
- Why is the eurozone likely to grow so slowly, if at all?
- Are we stumbling towards another banking crisis, and if so, which can be done about it?
- Why has unemployment fallen in the UK despite falling living standards for most people?
- What is meant by ‘hysteresis’ in the context of unemployment? Is there a problem of hysteresis at the current time and, if so, what can be done about it?
- Explain whether the MINT economies are likely to be a major source of global economic growth in the coming year?
- Why is it so difficult to forecast the rate of economic growth over the next 12 months, let alone over a longer time period?
With the financial crisis came accusations towards the banking sector that they had taken on too many bad risks. Banks were lending money on more and more risky ventures and this in part led to the credit crunch. Since then, bank lending has fallen and banks have been less and less willing to take on risky investments.
Small businesses tend to fall (rightly or wrongly) into the category of high risk and it is this sector in particular that is finding itself struggling to make much needed investments. All businesses require loans for investments and improvements and if the banking sector is unable or unwilling to lend then these improvements cannot take place.
Quantitative easing has been a key response across the world to the credit crisis to encourage banks to begin lending to each other and to customers. A new government backed scheme worth £20bn aims to increase bank lending to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). By guaranteeing £20bn of the participating banks’ own borrowing, lenders will be able to borrow more cheaply than normal. As the banks (so far including Barclays, Santander, RBS and Lloyds Banking Group) can borrow at a cheaper rate, they will therefore be able to pass this on to the businesses they lend to. Under this National Loan Guarantee Scheme (NLGS), businesses will be able to borrow at interests rates that are 1 percentage point lower than those outside the scheme. £5bn will initially be made available with subsequent installments each of £5bn to come later.
With the Budget looming, the Chancellor is keen to show that the government is delivering on its promise to give smaller businesses access to finance at lower interest rates. If this initiative does indeed stimulate higher lending, it may be a much needed boost for the economy’s faltering economic growth. Criticisms have been leveled at the scheme, saying that although it is a step in the right direction, it can by no means be assumed that it will be sufficient to solve all the problems. In particular, the NLGS is unlikely to provide much help for those small businesses that can’t get finance in the first place, irrespective of the cost of the borrowing. Furthermore some banks, notably HSBC, have chosen not to participate in the scheme, due to it not being commercially viable. The overall effect of this scheme will take some time be seen, but if it is effective, it could give the economy and the small business sector a much needed boost.
Banks to join credit-easing scheme Associated Press (20/3/12)
Credit easing: small businesses to get £20bn of guaranteed cheap loans Telegraph, Harry Wilson (20/3/12)
Bank lending scheme targets small businesses BBC News (20/3/12)
Move over Merlin, credit easing has arrived Independent, Ben Chu (20/3/12)
Credit easing injects £20bn into small firms Sky News (20/3/12)
UK launches small firm loan scheme, critics want more Reuters, Fiona Shaikh (20/3/12)
Osborne’s big plan: £20bn for small businesses Independent, Andrew Grice and Ben Chu (20/3/12)
George Osborne launches new scheme to boost lending to businesses Guardian, Larry Elliott (20/3/12)
- What is credit easing? Has the government’s previous credit easing had the intended effect?
- Why are small and medium sized enterprises normally seen as risky investments?
- Briefly explain the thinking behind this National Loan Guarantee Scheme.
- What are the criticisms currently levelled at this scheme? To what extent are they justified?
- Why has HSBC said that the scheme is not commercially viable for the bank?
- Explain why this scheme could provide a stimulus to the UK economy.
With the UK economy already struggling, the atmosphere in the financial sector has just a bit moodier, as Moody’s have downgraded the credit rating of 12 financial firms in the UK, including Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland and Nationwide. The change in credit rating has emerged because of Moody’s belief that the UK government was less likely to support these firms if they fell into financial trouble. It was, however, emphasized that it did not “reflect a deterioration in the financial strength of the banking system.” The same can not be said for Portugal, who has similarly seen nine of their banks being downgraded due to ‘financial weakness’. George Osborne commented that it was down to the government no longer guaranteeing our largest banks, but he also said:
“I’m confident that British banks are well capitalised, they are liquid, they are not experiencing the kinds of problems that some of the banks in the eurozone are experiencing at the moment.”
Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland both saw falls in their shares following their downgraded credit rating. Other banks, including Barclays also saw their shares fall, despite not being downgraded. Perhaps another indication of the interdependence we now see across the world. In interviews, George Osborne has continued to say that he believes UK banks are secure and wants them to become more independent to try to protect taxpayer’s money in the event of a crisis. Moody’s explained its decision saying:
“Moody’s believes that the government is likely to continue to provide some level of support to systemically important financial institutions, which continue to incorporate up to three notches of uplift…However, it is more likely now to allow smaller institutions to fail if they become financially troubled. The downgrades do not reflect a deterioration in the financial strength of the banking system or that of the government.”
The above comment reflects Moody’s approach to downgrading UK banks – not all have seen the same credit rating cuts. RBS and Nationwide have gone down 2 notches, whilst Lloyds and Santander have only gone down by 1 notch. Markets across the world will continue to react to this development in the UK financial sector, so it is a story worth keeping up to date with. The following articles consider the Moody environment.
UK banks’ credit rating downgraded The Press Association (7/10/11)
UK financial firms downgraded by Moody’s rating agency BBC News (7/10/11)
Moody’s downgrades nine Portuguese banks Financial Times, Peter Wise (7/10/11)
Bank shares fall on Moody’s downgrade Telegraph, Harry Wilson (7/10/11)
Moody’s cuts credit rating on UK banks RBS and Lloyds Reuters, Sudip Kar-Gupta (7/10/11)
Moody’s downgrade: George Osborne says British banks are sound Guardian, Andrew Sparrow (7/10/11)
Whitehall fears new bail-out for RBS Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins (7/10/11)
- Do you think that Moody’s have over-reacted? Explain your answer.
- What factors would Moody’s have considered when determining whether to downgrade the credit rating of any given bank and by how much?
- Why did share prices of the affected firms fall following the downgrading? What does this suggest about the public’s confidence in the banks?
- Do you think it is the right move for the government to encourage UK banks to become more independent in a bid to protect taxpayer’s money should a crisis develop?
- How might this downgrading affect the performance of the UK economy for the rest of 2011? Explain your answer.
- What are the differences behind the downgrading of UK banks and Portuguese banks?
The banking sector was at the heart of the credit crunch and it may also be at the heart of the recovery. Too much lending to those who could not repay has now translated into government encouragement and targets to stimulate further lending. Banks made a deal with the government (Project Merlin) to lend £76bn to small and medium sized companies (SMEs) in 2011, however, the data for the first quarter of 2011 shows that the top five UK banks lent only £16.8bn, some £2.2bn short of their quarterly target (about 12%). Despite this sum still being a significant figure, small companies have said that they are still finding it difficult to obtain credit from banks. A poll found 44% of companies that asked for a loan were turned down and many were discouraged from even applying as they had almost no chance.
Encouraging banks to lend and hence stimulating investment by businesses may prove crucial to the UK’s recovery. Vince Cable’s words with regard to lending emphasise its importance:
“We will monitor the banks’ performance extremely closely and if they fail to meet the commitments they have agreed we will examine options for further action.”
If small businesses can obtain credit, it will help them to develop and expand and this should have knock on effects on the rest of the economy. Jobs could be created, giving more people an income, which in turn should stimulate consumption, further investment and finally aggregate demand. It may not be the case that the UK’s recovery is entirely dependent on bank lending, but it could certainly play an important role, hence the government’s insistence for further lending. It may also act to create confidence in the economy. The following articles consider the bank’s role in providing credit to SMEs.
Bank lending falling short of promises by £25m a day Mail Online, Becky Barrow (24/5/11)
Cable tells banks to increase lending to small firms BBC News (23/5/11)
Bank lending targets: What the experts say Guardian, Alex Hawkes (23/5/11)
Major banks fail to meet their lending targets Independent, Sean Farrell (24/5/11)
Banks on course to miss small business lending target Guardian, Philip Inman (23/5/11)
Project Merlin needs to be less woolly and more wizard Guardian, Nils Pratley (23/5/11)
Bankers caused the crash and now they strangle recovery Guardian, Polly Toynbee (27/5/11)
Trends in Lending Bank of England (see in particular, Lending to UK Businesses)
- Why have banks not met their lending targets for the first quarter of 2011?
- Why is project Merlin so potentially important to the recovery of the economy?
- Using an AD/AS diagram, illustrate the possible effects of further lending.
- Are there any possible adverse consequences of too much lending?
- Why might banks have little incentive to increase their lending to SMEs?
On 28 November 2010, a deal was reached between the Irish government, the ECB, the IMF and other individual governments to bail out Ireland. The deal involved an €85bn package to bail out the collapsing Irish banks. Not all of the money went directly to the banks and the Irish government did set aside some of the loan. However, some of this money will now be required by four key lenders in Ireland, after a stress test by a group of independent experts found that the Republic of Ireland’s banks need another €24bn (that’s £21.2bn) to survive the continuing financial crisis. Allied Irish Banks require €13.5bn, Bank of Ireland €5.2bn, Irish Life €4bn and EBS a meager €1.5bn. The governor of the central bank, Professor Patrick Honohan said:
‘The new requirements are needed to restore market confidence, and ensure banks have enough capital to meet even the markets’ darkest estimates.’
The stress test focused on an assumption of a ‘cumulative collapse’ in property prices by 62%, together with rising unemployment. Following this, the Irish Finance Minister announced the government’s intention to take a majority stake in all of the major lenders. The Irish banks have been told they need to reduce the net loans on their balance sheets by some €71bn (£63bn) by the end of 2013. This process of deleveraging is likely to generate further losses, as many loans and assets will be sold for less than their true value. The causes of this ongoing financial crisis can still be traced back to the weakness within the Irish economy and more specifically to mortgage accounts being in arrears following the property market bubble that burst. A key question will be whether this second bail-out is sufficient to restore much needed confidence in the economy and particularly in the banking sector. The articles below consider this ongoing crisis.
Irish hope it is second time lucky for bail-out Telegraph, Harry Wilson (1/4/11)
Irish Bank needs extra €24bn euros to survive BBC News (31/3/11)
Ireland forced into new £21bn bailout by debt crisis Guardian, Larry Elliott and Jill Treanor (31/3/11)
The hole in Ireland’s banks is £21bn BBC News Blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (31/3/11)
ECB has given Ireland serious commitment Reuters (1/4/11)
Ireland banking crisis: is the worst really over? Guardian: Ireland Business Blog, Lisa O’Carroll (1/4/11)
Ireland: a dead cert for default Guardian, Larry Elliott (1/4/11)
Timeline: Ireland’s string of bank bailouts Reuters (31/3/11)
- What is the process of deleveraging? Why is likely to lead to more losses for Ireland’s banks?
- What are the causes of the financial crisis in Ireland? How do they differ from financial crises around the world?
- What are the arguments for and against bailing out the Irish banks?
- Will this second bailout halt the possible contagion to other Eurozone and EU members?
- If this second bailout proves insufficient, should there be further intervention in the Irish economy?