By RGE Monitor

Today we present some of the main conclusions of the recently released update to the RGE 2009 Global Economic Outlook.

The global economy is in the middle of a synchronized contraction that will push global growth into negative territory in 2009 for the first time in decades. This will be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and the worst global economic downturn in decades. Global trade volumes face their sharpest contractions of the postwar era – trade is expected to contract 12% in 2009 due to the severe and prolonged global demand slump, excess capacity across supply chains and the continued crunch in trade finance.

Many analysts and commentators are pointing out that the second derivative of economic activity is turning positive (i.e. economies are still contracting but a slower rather than accelerated rate) and that green shoots of an economic recovery are blossoming. RGE Monitor’s analysis of the data suggests that the global economic contraction is still in full swing with a very severe, a deep and protracted U-shaped recession. Last year’s economic consensus forecast of a V-shaped short and shallow recession has vanished.

While the rate of economic contraction is slowing compared to the free fall rates of Q4 of 2008 and Q1 of 2009, we are still a long way away from the economic bottom and from a sustained recovery of growth. In particular, in Europe and Japan there is little evidence of a positive second derivative of economic activity.

However, by the end of Q1 2009, there were some signs that the pace of contraction had slowed in many economies especially in the US and China, where policy responses have been more significant and leading indicators in the manufacturing sector may have bottomed before they did in Europe and Japan. However, major economies including all of the G7 will continue to contract throughout 2009, albeit at a slower pace than at the beginning of the year.

Moreover the global recovery might be sluggish at best in 2010 given the overhang of credit losses of financial institutions, lingering credit crunch, need for retrenchment by overstretched and over-indebted households in current account deficit countries and a slow resumption of demand prompted by extensive government stimulus.

Some key elements of RGE Monitor’s outlook include:

• Global economic activity is expected to contract by 1.9% in 2009. Advanced economies are expected to contract 4% in 2009. Japan and the eurozone will suffer the sharpest downturns. US GDP will continue to contract, albeit at a slower pace throughout 2009, with negative growth in every quarter.

• Emerging markets will slow down sharply from the stellar growth rates of the past few years, with the BRIC economies growing at half their 2008 pace.

• Deteriorated terms of trade, slower capital flows and tighter credit will push Latin America into recession from the 4.1% growth of 2008. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela will all shift to negative territory on a year-over-year basis while smaller countries, like Peru, will experience a significant slowdown.

• Countries in Eastern Europe and the CIS will experience some of the sharpest contractions given the withdrawal of foreign credit and the risk of a severe financial crisis. The reduction in oil revenues and financial stress will contribute to a 5% yoy contraction in Russia and some countries – especially in the Baltics – are at risk of double-digit contractions.

• Export-dependent Asia’s growth will slow significantly to less than 3% in 2009. China will have a hard landing with GDP growth falling to 5.5% while India will slow sharply to 4.3%. All four Asian Tigers (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong) as well as Malaysia and Thailand will experience recessions.

• The Middle East and Africa will mark much slower growth, half of their 2008 pace, given the reduction in capital inflows, reduced demand from the US and EU and decline in commodity prices and output. Israel and South Africa will suffer slight contractions.

• The unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus may help alleviate the substantial contraction in private demand and reduce the risk of a global L-shaped near-depression. Debt financing may be a challenge for many countries though, especially emerging markets or the most vulnerable Western European economies.

• Job losses during the current global recession might exceed those in recent recession, contributing to increases in defaults and posing additional risks to banks. The unemployment rate in developed countries will reach double-digits by 2010 (as early as mid-2009 in the US) and push more people in developing countries into poverty. Moreover, despite new funding from multilateral institutions, severe contractions will raise the risk of social and political unrest.

• Commodities as a class are likely to come under renewed pressure in 2009 despite some support from production cuts. RGE expects the WTI oil price to average about $40 a barrel in 2009 as demand destruction continues to outweigh crude supply destruction.

Source: RGE Monitor, April 21, 2009.

Did you enjoy this post? If so, click here to subscribe to updates to Investment Postcards from Cape Town by e-mail.