Still awash with cash, world economies take turn for the worse

Aug 21 2014, 08:13 IST
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SummaryUltra-loose monetary policies followed by major central banks have failed to bring about recovery

China’s economy is slowing. The euro zone’s is a flat line. Japan’s sank in the second quarter. Britain has wage deflation. The US economy is ticking over at best.

In a world preoccupied by geopolitical crises, from Ukraine, Iraq and Gaza to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the global economy has taken something of a back seat. But there are increasing signs it is in trouble despite being awash with cash from record low interest rates.

Many policymakers across the world would like to move away from this ultra-loose monetary policy, which they introduced to drag their countries out of the financial crisis.

But the economies are not playing ball. Essentially, the economic doldrums have pushed back the time when central banks can start the process of normalising monetary policy.

Take China. Data in July showed cash flowing into the economy plunging to a near six-year low. The housing sector, around 15% of the world’s second largest economy, is also faltering. So although overall growth projections for the year remain roughly on track, the latest data has brought the potential for looser Chinese monetary policy.

In a similar vein, the issue in the moribund euro zone is not one of reining in monetary largesse but of whether the ECB should extend it by buying government bonds in a quantitative easing programme.

The bank has already thrown more than 1 trillion euros ($1.34 trillion) into the economy, much of it repaid, and is poised to inject up to another

1 trillion euros if necessary. Yet there was no growth across the bloc in the second quarter and inflation is running at a deflation-threatening 0.4 %.

Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a fellow at the Petersen Institute of International Economics, reckons that the main problem facing central banks is that the pillars of world economic growth are not level and that economies are not working together. “From the perspective of the US consumer coming to the rescue of global demand, forget about it,” Kirkegaard said.

That was underlined by the latest US jobs data. Along with an economy expanding at only a modest rate, this has all been enough to persuade Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen to lower expectations for a rate hike until hiring and wage data show the effects of the financial crisis are “completely gone.”

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