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Recovery needs balance: economist

SUSTAINING The chief IMF economist said models from previous recessions do not apply and rebalancing will require increased foreign demand for US goods


The global recovery from recession depends on a delicate rebalancing of economies — notably between the US and Asia — to sustain it, the chief IMF economist said.

“The recovery has started. Sustaining it will require delicate rebalancing acts, both within and across countries,” Olivier Blanchard said in an IMF article, released in advance of publication yesterday.

Blanchard cautioned that predictable models based on past recoveries from recessions would not apply to the worst global slump since World War II.

“The world is not in a run-of-the mill recession. The turnaround will not be simple. The crisis has left deep scars, which will affect both supply and demand for many years to come,” he said.

In its latest economic forecasts, the IMF estimated last month a global contraction of 1.4 percent this year, followed by sluggish growth of 2.5 percent next year.

The US, the epicenter of the crisis, “is central to any world recovery,” Blanchard said in the article titled “Sustaining a Global Recovery.”

Blanchard said two ­rebalancing acts would have to come into play to sustain the global recovery: a switch from public to private spending and the rebalancing of international trade flows.

The latter would require “a shift from domestic to foreign demand in the United States and a reverse shift from foreign to domestic demand in the rest of the world, particularly in Asia,” he said.

Pointing to a decline in US household consumption — which “represents 70 percent of total US demand” — and a rise in the personal saving rate that is expected to persist for some time, Blanchard estimated a 3 percentage point drop in the ratio of consumption to US GDP, a broad measure of economic output.

With the 3 percent drop unlikely to be made up by increased investment and the eventual phase-out of the massive fiscal stimulus, “US net exports must increase” for the US recovery to occur, he said.

Key to the rebalancing act will be an increase in foreign demand for US goods, particularly in countries with large current account surpluses, notably in China and other Asian countries.

“From the point of view of the United States, a decrease in China’s current account surplus would help increase demand, and sustain the US recovery. That would result in more US imports, which would help sustain world recovery,” the top economist at the 186-nation institution said.

China may be willing to pursue that “because it may well be in its own interest,” said the economist, but other emerging market Asian countries that run large current account surpluses have weaker incentives than China to boost internal demand.

Blanchard said that Asia appeared the best-placed to tip the trade balance.

“If rebalancing is to come soon, it probably has to come largely from Asia, through a decrease in saving, and an appreciation of Asian currencies vis-a-vis the dollar,” he said.

In a typical recession model, he said, lower-than-normal growth gives way to higher-than-normal growth for some time, until the economy has returned to its normal growth path.

“The current global recession is far from normal,” he said, citing the breakdown in parts of the economic system.

“In advanced countries, the financial systems are partly dysfunctional, and will take a long time to find their new shape,” he said.

Emerging market countries may not see dwindled capital inflows return to pre-crisis levels for a few years.

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