Use fiscal initiatives to escape low-growth: OECD Global Economic Outlook, November 2016

OECD Global Economic Outlook, November 2016

Key Issues

  • The global economy remains in a low-growth trap, but more active use of fiscal policy will raise growth modestly. Investment and trade are weak, weighing on drivers of consumption such as productivity and wages.
  • Policy uncertainties and financial risks are high. But low interest rates create a window of opportunity
  • Fiscal, structural, trade policies need to be interwoven for gains. Reducing trade costs raises growth but trade restrictions put jobs at risk. Expansionary fiscal initiatives to boost growth and reduce inequality would not impair fiscal sustainability. The success of fiscal initiatives depends on structural policy ambition.
  • Collective action enables greater gains at lower political cost.

Extracts from editorial by OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann

[…] The projections in this Economic Outlook offer the prospect that fiscal initiatives could catalyse private economic activity and push the global economy to the modestly higher growth rate of around 3½ per cent by 2018. Durable exit from the low-growth trap depends on policy choices beyond those of the monetary authorities – that is, of fiscal and structural, including trade policies – as well as on concerted and effective implementation. Collective fiscal action undertaken by all countries, including a more expansionary stance than planned in many countries in Europe, would support domestic and global growth even for those economies, who by virtue of specific circumstances, need to consolidate their fiscal positions or pursue a more neutral stance. […] This Economic Outlook argues that the current conjuncture of extraordinarily accommodative monetary policy with very low interest rates opens a window of opportunity to deploy fiscal initiatives. Fiscal space has been created by lower interest payments on rolled-over debt, which also increases gauges of market access and of debt sustainability. On average, OECD economies could deploy deficit- financed fiscal initiatives for three to four years, while still leaving debt-to-GDP ratios unchanged in the long term. A front-loaded effort could allow deficit finance to taper sooner and put the debt-to-GDP ratio sustainably on a downward path.

The key is to deploy the right kind of fiscal initiatives that support demand in the short run and supply in the long run and address not just growth challenges but also inequality concerns. These include soft investments in education and R&D along with hard investment in public infrastructures. Such fiscal initiatives would improve outcomes for demand and supply potential even more for economies suffering from long-term unemployment, when undertaken collectively, and when fiscal initiatives are complemented by country-specific structural policies put together in a coherent package.

[…] Against this backdrop of fiscal initiatives, reviving trade growth through better policies would help to push the global economy out of the low-growth trap, as well as support revived productivity growth. In this Economic Outlook trade growth is projected to increase from a dismal ratio of global trade-to-GDP growth of around 0.8 to be about on par with global output growth – remaining much less than the multiple of 2 enjoyed over the last few decades. This sluggish trade growth compared to historical experience shaves some 0.2 percentage point from total factor productivity growth – which may seem minor – but is meaningful given the slow productivity growth of some 0.5% per year during the post- crisis period.

Some argue that slowing globalization would temper the brunt of adjustments to workers and firms. This Economic Outlook suggests that protectionism and inevitable trade retaliation would offset much of the effects of the fiscal initiatives on domestic and global growth, raise prices, harm living standards, and leave countries in a worsened fiscal position. Trade protectionism shelters some jobs, but worsens prospects and lowers well- being for many others. In many OECD countries, more than 25% of jobs depend on foreign demand. Instead, policymakers need to implement the structural policy packages that create more job opportunities, increase business dynamism, promote successful reallocation and enhance policies to ensure that gains from trade are better shared. Fortunately, the country-specific policy packages that make fiscal initiatives more effective in promoting demand growth and supply potential also help to make growth more inclusive.

The transition path to a more balanced policy set and higher sustainable growth involves financial risks. But so too does the status quo dependence on extraordinary monetary policy. Pricing distortions in financial markets abound. Yield curves are still fairly flat, with negative interest rates. Pricing of credit risk has narrowed even as issuance of riskier bonds has increased. Real estate prices continue to advance in many markets, even in the face of attempted tempering by macro-prudential measures. Expectations in currency markets are on edge as evidenced by high measures of currency volatility. These financial distortions and risks expose vulnerable balance sheets of firms in emerging markets, and challenge bank profitability and the long-term stability of pension schemes in advanced economies.

The fiscal initiatives in conjunction with trade and structural policies, as outlined in the scenarios in this Economic Outlook, should revive expectations for faster and more inclusive growth, thus allowing monetary policy to move toward a more neutral stance in the United States at least, and possibly other countries as well. The risk of a growing divergence in monetary policy stances in the major economies over the next two years could be a new source of financial market tensions even as growth picks up, thus putting a premium on collective action by countries to revive growth in tandem.

In sum, policymakers should closely examine fiscal space; low interest rates enable many countries to boost hard and soft infrastructure and other growth-enhancing initiatives. Avoiding trade pitfalls, coupled with social measures to better share the gains from globalization and technological change, are key policy priorities. Using the window of opportunity created by monetary policy and following through on fiscal and structural measures should raise growth expectations and create the necessary momentum for the global economy to escape the low-growth trap.

Useful links

General assessment of the macroeconomic situation (PDF)

Using the fiscal levers to escape the low-growth trap (PDF)

Projections by country (country notes)

Projections in Excel or OECD.Stat (Database) or PDF

Remarks by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría

OECD Economic Outlook 2016 sees global economy stuck in low-growth trap unless policymakers act now to keep promises

Eco outlook 2016Continuing the cycle of forecast optimism followed by disappointment, global growth has been marked down, by some 0.3 per cent, for 2016 and 2017 in the 2016 OECD Economic Outlook since the November 2015 OECD Interim Economic Outlook and the global economy is set to grow by only 3.3 per cent in 2017. This reflects a combination of subdued aggregate demand, poor underlying supply-side developments, with weak investment, trade and productivity growth, and diminished reform momentum.

OECD GDP growth is projected to be just under 2% on average over 2016-17, broadly in line with outcomes in the previous two years. Supportive macroeconomic policies and low commodity prices should continue to underpin a modest recovery in the advanced economies, assuming that wage increases and business investment growth both start to pick up and tensions in financial markets do not reoccur. However, weakness in external demand stemming from the emerging economies remains a drag on the advanced economies.

The potential exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Brexit) is a major downside risk. Brexit would have much stronger spillovers if it were to undermine confidence in the future of the European Union. In such a scenario, equity prices would drop further and risk premia for euro area sovereign and corporate bonds would increase by more, slowing GDP growth more substantially. Together with a fall in the euro, this would add to pressures on private and public finances, especially in countries where debt remains high. This risk would compound the existing political tensions in the European Union related to high refugee inflows and ongoing financial efforts to stabilise Greece. Other downside risks to global activity relate to a possible escalation of conflicts, including in Ukraine and the Middle East.

The prolonged period of low growth has precipitated a self-fulfilling low-growth trap. Business has little incentive to invest given insufficient demand at home and in the global economy, continued uncertainties, and a slowed pace of structural reform. In addition, although the unemployment rate in the OECD is projected to fall to 6.2 per cent by 2017, 39 million people will still be out of work, almost 6.5 million more than before the crisis. Muted wage gains and rising inequality depress consumption growth.

In per capita terms, the potential of the OECD economies to grow has halved from just below 2 per cent 20 years ago to less than one per cent per year, and the drop across emerging markets is similarly dramatic. It will take 70 years, instead of 35, to double living standards.

Global trade growth, at less than 3 per cent on average over the projection period, is well below historical rates, as value-chain intensive and commodity-based trade are being held back by factors ranging from spreading protectionism to China rebalancing toward consumption-oriented growth.

In trying to revive economic growth with monetary policy alone, with little help from fiscal or structural policies, the balance of benefits-to-risks is tipping. Financial markets have been signalling that monetary policy is overburdened. Pricing of risks to maturity, credit, and liquidity are so sensitised that small changes in investor attitude have generated volatility spikes, such as in late 2015 and again in early 2016.

Fiscal policy must be deployed more extensively, and can take advantage of the environment created by monetary policy. Governments today can lock in very low interest rates for very long maturities to effectively open up fiscal space. Prioritised and high quality spending generates the capacity to repay the obligations in the longer term while also supporting growth today. Hard infrastructure (such as digital, energy, and transport) and soft infrastructure (including early education and innovation) have high multipliers. The right choices will catalyse business investment, which, as the Outlook of a year ago argued, is ultimately the key to propelling the economy from the low-growth trap to the high-growth path.

Potential output per capita growth for the OECD as a whole is estimated at 1% in 2016, which is between ¾ and 1 percentage point below the average in the two decades preceding the crisis. Two main factors have contributed to this decline: weak capital stock growth accounts for around one-half of the slowdown, and the rest is accounted for largely by declining total factor productivity growth.

Sluggish demand and productivity growth, low inflation, substantial downside risks and, in some areas, high unemployment call for sustained well-balanced macroeconomic policy stimulus and productivity-enhancing structural reforms. Policy needs differ across countries, reflecting differences in their cyclical position, past policy measures and resulting policy space. Adopting a more co-ordinated and comprehensive policy approach both within and across countries offers the prospect of breaking out of the low-level global growth environment.

Useful links

Projections in Excel or OECD.Stat and Statistical Annex (PDF)

The Economic Consequences of Brexit

Brexit would be a major negative shock to the UK economy, with economic fallout in the rest of the OECD, particularly other European countries. In some respects, Brexit would be akin to a tax on GDP, imposing a persistent and rising cost on the economy that would not be incurred if the UK remained in the EU.

brexit to 2030

By 2020, GDP would be over 3% smaller than otherwise (with continued EU membership), equivalent to a cost per household of GBP 2200 (in today’s prices). In the longer term, structural impacts would take hold through the channels of capital, immigration and lower technical progress. In particular, labour productivity would be held back by a drop in foreign direct investment and a smaller pool of skills. The extent of foregone GDP would increase over time. By 2030, in a central scenario GDP would be over 5% lower than otherwise – with the cost of Brexit  equivalent to GBP 3200 per household (in today’s prices). The effects would be even larger in a more pessimistic scenario and remain negative even in the optimistic scenario. Brexit would also hold back GDP in other European economies, particularly in the near term resulting from heightened uncertainty would create about the future of Europe. In contrast, continued UK membership in the European Union and further reforms of the Single Market would enhance living standards on both sides of the Channel.

brexit costUseful links

The Economic Consequences of Brexit: A Taxing Decision, OECD Policy Paper

To Brexit or not to Brexit, a taxing decision, remarks by Angel Gurrìa, OECD Secretary-General

OECD reaction to the “Panama Papers”

Statement from OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría

The “Panama Papers” revelations have shone the light on Panama’s culture and practice of secrecy. Panama is the last major holdout that continues to allow funds to be hidden offshore from tax and law enforcement authorities. The OECD has been leading a global crackdown on these practices since 2009, working hand-in-hand with the G20. Through the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information, we have constantly and consistently warned of the risks of countries like Panama failing to comply with the international tax transparency standards. Just a few weeks ago, we told G20 Finance Ministers that Panama was back-tracking on its commitment to automatic exchange of financial account information.  The consequences of Panama’s failure to meet the international tax transparency standards are now out there in full public view. Panama must put its house in order, by immediately implementing these standards.[1]

While the “Panama Papers” data expose nefarious activities, they also show a decline in the use of offshore companies and bearer share companies, which is a testament to the incredible transformation effected in the last 7 years to establish robust international standards on tax transparency, including on beneficial ownership: 132 jurisdictions have committed to the standard on exchange of information ‘on request.’ Of those, 96 jurisdictions will introduce automatic exchange of financial account information within the next 2 years. Almost 100 jurisdictions have joined the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters.  As a result of our in-depth peer review process, the use of bearer share companies is close to being eliminated across the world, and the beneficial ownership rules have been strengthened to ensure that information is now available to tax authorities when they need it.

Establishing global standards and making commitments are just the start though. Effective implementation is the key to lifting the veil of secrecy once and for all and eradicating tax evasion. The time has come to make sure that no jurisdiction can benefit from failing to meet their commitments. In the run-up to September’s G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou, we must use every opportunity to deliver. The next G20 Finance Ministers meetings and the Global Anti-Corruption summit taking place in London in May will be critical.

Q&A on Panama Papers

What does the release of the “Panama Papers” actually tell us?

The Panama Papers describe in detail how a veil of secrecy is still allowing funds to be transferred between jurisdictions and held offshore, where it can be hidden from tax authorities. Panama’s consistent failure to fully adhere to and comply with international standards monitored by the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes is facilitating the use of offshore financial centres for hiding funds, depriving governments of tax revenue and often aiding and abetting criminal behaviour.

The Panamanian government says that the OECD has recognised its efforts to improve access to information about beneficial ownership of entities and its willingness to share such information with authorities in other jurisdictions. Is this actually true?

The OECD has been working for more than seven years to establish robust international standards on tax transparency and ensure their implementation. In 2009, when the initial objective of the Global Forum was to reach international agreement on the Exchange of Information on request, most countries and jurisdictions were quick to get on board, while a few, including Panama, were reluctant to make commitments or move forward along with the rest of the international community.  After many years of resistance, Panama updated its domestic legislation in 2015, which provided the basis upon which to engage in the phase of the review process that assesses whether effective information exchange is actually taking place. Panama remains well behind most other comparable international financial centres.

To push the transparency agenda forward, the G20 identified Automatic Exchange of Information as a new international standard in 2014, and almost 100 jurisdictions and countries have already agreed to implement it within the next two years. Whilst almost all international financial centres including Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, Jersey, Singapore, and Switzerland have agreed to do so, Panama has so far refused to make the same commitment. As part of its ongoing fight against opacity in the financial sector, the OECD will continue monitoring Panama’s commitment to and application of international standards, and continue reporting to the international community on the issue.

Is Panama the only outlier, or is it the tip of the iceberg? Are there other jurisdictions posing similar problems?

Having conducted well over 200 Phase 1 and 2 peer reviews in the past 7 years, the Global Forum has identified a number of member countries and jurisdictions whose legal and regulatory framework for the exchange of information are as yet not up to international standards. They include Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Micronesia, Nauru, Trinidad and Tobago and Vanuatu. It is clear that there are other jurisdictions where a lack of information on beneficial ownership of corporate and other entities is facilitating illicit flows.

Interim Economic Outlook: Elusive global growth outlook requires urgent policy response

Global GDP growth in 2016 is projected to be no higher than in 2015, itself the slowest pace in the past five years, according to the latest OECD Interim Economic Outlook. The OECD projects that the global economy will grow by 3 percent this year and 3.3 percent in 2017, which is well below long-run averages of around 3¾ percent. This is also lower than would be expected during a recovery phase for advanced economies, and given the pace of growth that could be achieved by emerging economies in convergence mode.

The US will grow by 2 percent this year and by 2.2 percent in 2017, while the UK is projected to grow at 2.1 percent in 2016 and 2 percent in 2017. Canadian growth is projected at 1.4 percent this year and 2.2 percent in 2017, while Japan is projected to grow by 0.8 percent in 2016 and 0.6 percent in 2017.

The euro area is projected to grow at a 1.4 percent rate in 2016 and a 1.7 percent pace in 2017. Germany is forecast to grow by 1.3 percent in 2016 and 1.7 percent in 2017, France by 1.2 percent in 2016 and 1.5 percent in 2017, while Italy will see a 1 percent rate in 2016 and 1.4 percent rate in 2017.

With China expected to continue rebalancing its economy from manufacturing to services, growth is forecast at 6.5 percent in 2016 and 6.2 percent in 2017. India will continue to grow robustly, by 7.4 percent in 2016 and 7.3 percent in 2017. By contrast, Brazil’s economy is experiencing a deep recession and is expected to shrink by 4 percent this year and only to begin to emerge from the downturn next year.

Trade and investment remain weak. Sluggish demand is leading to low inflation and inadequate wage and employment growth.

Financial instability risks are substantial. Financial markets globally have been reassessing growth prospects, leading to falls in equity prices and higher market volatility. Some emerging markets are particularly vulnerable to sharp exchange rate movements and the effects of high domestic debt.

A stronger collective policy response is needed to strengthen demand. Monetary policy cannot work alone. Fiscal policy is now contractionary in many major economies. Structural reform momentum has slowed. All three levers of policy must be deployed more actively to create stronger and sustained growth. The recipe varies by country, especially with regard to needed structural reforms.

Real GDP growth to 2017

Interim outlook

Useful links

OECD Insights on COP21

OECD COP21

Over the past year, OECD Insights has published a series of blogs from contributors inside and outside the Organisation on the issues being debated over the next two weeks at COP21 in Paris. Here they are, in alphabetical order by title:

Meeting climate goals will require stronger policies to cut emissions

OECD Economic Outlook November 2015: Emerging market slowdown and drop in trade clouding global outlook

Read the Outlook online
Read the Outlook online

Global growth prospects have clouded this year. Global growth has eased to around 3%, well below its long-run average. This largely reflects further weakness in emerging market economies (EMEs). Deep recessions have emerged in Brazil and Russia, whilst the ongoing slowdown in China and the associated weakness of commodity prices has hit activity in key trading partners and commodity exporting economies, and increased financial market uncertainty.

Global trade growth has slowed markedly, especially in the EMEs, and financial conditions have become less supportive in most economies.

Global GDP

Growth in the OECD economies has held up this year, at around 2%, implying a modest reduction in economic slack, helped by an upturn in private consumption growth. However, business investment remains subdued, raising questions about future potential growth rates and about the extent to which stronger growth in the advanced economies can help to overcome cyclical weakness in the EMEs.

Sharp slowdown in EMEs is weighing on global activity and trade, and subdued investment and productivity growth is checking the momentum of the recovery in the advanced economies. Supportive macroeconomic policies and lower commodity prices are projected to strengthen global growth gradually through 2016 and 2017, but this outcome is far from certain given rising downside risks and vulnerabilities, and uncertainties about the path of policies and the response of trade and investment.

The outlook for the EMEs is a key source of global uncertainty at present, given their large contribution to global trade and GDP growth. In China, ensuring a smooth rebalancing of the economy, whilst avoiding a sharp reduction in GDP growth and containing financial stability risks, presents challenges. A more significant slowdown in Chinese domestic demand could hit financial market confidence and the growth prospects of many economies, including the advanced economies.

major economies

For EMEs more broadly, challenges have increased, reflecting weaker commodity prices, tighter credit conditions and lower potential output growth, with the risk that capital outflows and sharp currency depreciations may expose financial vulnerabilities. Growth would also be hit in the euro area, as well as Japan, where the short-run impact of past stimulus has proved weaker than anticipated and uncertainty remains about future policy choices.

There are increasing signs that the anticipated path of potential output may fail to materialise in many economies, requiring a reassessment of monetary and fiscal policy strategies. The risk of such an outcome underlines the importance of implementing productivity-raising structural policies, alongside measures to reduce persisting negative supply effects from past demand weakness in labour markets and capital investment, whilst ensuring that macroeconomic policies continue to support growth and stability. Early and decisive actions to spur reductions in greenhouse gas emissions via predictable paths of policy including tax reforms, or public investment programmes, or action on research and development might also help to support short-term growth and improve longer-term prospects.

Global recovery