Central bankers have managed to steer the world economy clear of a recession while leaving it stuck in the same rut that led to its troubles in the first place.
A torrent of monetary stimulus in recent weeks helped spark a turnaround in financial markets by assuaging investors’ fears of an impending global downturn. Yet it did little to lift hopes among economists of a stronger pickup that would put growth on a more solid footing.
“The global economy will continue to muddle along,” said Charles Collyns, chief economist for the Institute of International Finance in Washington and a former U.S. Treasury official. He sees growth this year of about 2.5 percent -- the same as in 2015 and well short of the 3.7 percent average over the five years leading up to the global financial crisis.
The concern is that policy makers are mainly putting off the pain for now while adding to the difficulties they’ll face later. What’s more, the meager growth they’ve generated means a downside shock still threatens to sink the world into recession, with central bankers already pressing against the limits of their powers.
“The returns to monetary easing are still positive, but they’re diminishing,” said Joachim Fels, global economic adviser for Pacific Investment Management Co., which oversees $1.43 trillion in assets.
The lackluster world economy is expected to top the agenda when central bankers and finance ministers gather in Washington next month for the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, with Group of 20 officials also holding talks. IMF officials have said they expect to downgrade their assessment of this year’s outlook and have urged policy makers to do whatever they can to spur growth.
Angel Gurria, secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said “easy fixes” are no longer an option, and governments need to focus on boosting demand to better address global worries about deflation. “Investment is about half the speed it should be growing,” Gurria said Tuesday on Bloomberg Television.
Still, muddling through looks pretty good compared with the nasty combination of events that investors dreaded was in store earlier this year: A Chinese hard landing and steep currency devaluation, a U.S. recession and a global downturn comparable to 2008 and 2009.