The IMF’s latest forecast: Perverse austerity

THE International Monetary Fund sharply lowered its global economic outlook today and warned that an intensified euro crisis could tip the world back into recession. Its latest forecast is for the world to grow 3.3% this year and the advanced countries 1.2%, sharply lower than it saw just four months ago. Those numbers, it warns, are predicated on a comprehensive solution to Europe’s crisis.

More interesting, and disturbing, are some findings in the IMF’s accompanying Fiscal Monitor. Last year was one for fiscal hawks to celebrate as fiscal consolidation proceeded apace. Throughout the advanced economies, budget deficits fell by about 1% of GDP. Only a little of that was due to the cyclical economic improvement. Most was structural, i.e. through discretionary spending cuts or tax increases. That should continue this year, led by America where, even if the payroll tax cut is extended, the structural deficit will decline by 1.4 percentage points.

In the euro zone, Germany, France, Spain and Italy all managed to reduce their structural budget deficits, the latter three thanks to austerity. All are expected to reduce those deficits further this year. But this is not the good news it seems. Austerity, the IMF has found, could be making Europe’s crisis worse, rather than better.

The IMF studied how credit default swap spreads react to a variety of economic indicators. Larger primary deficits (which exclude interest) lead to wider spreads, but only in the euro zone. More surprising, neither long-run deficits,long-run trends in pension and health care spending, nor long-run economic growth, had much impact. But near term growth did: weaker current-year growth was associated with notably wider spreads.

via The IMF’s latest forecast: Perverse austerity | The Economist.

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