Debt crisis pushes developed economies to the edge

Debt crisis pushes developed economies to the edge

London: The sovereign debt crisis crippling the euro zone still threatens other developed economies, leaving Britain and Japan teetering on the edge of recession but with the United States seen several paces away from a slump, a Reuters poll found.

Reuters polls of over 250 economists taken over the past week found hatchets taken to 2012 forecasts for the euro zone, Britain and Japan as ultra-loose monetary policies have failed to stimulate enough growth.

European Union (EU) leaders made an historic step towards fiscal union last week but there are fears it will not be enough to ease the debt crisis that has brought the bloc to its knees. Financial markets have reacted negatively.

“The move decided towards fiscal union can contribute to calm market fears, but not quickly," said Jean-Louis Mourier, economist at Aurel BGC.

The 17-nation euro bloc is already in a recession that will last until next April and growth will be flat next year, according to the latest Reuters poll.

Britain’s 2012 growth forecast was slashed to just 0.6% from 1.0% a month earlier. Analysts gave an even chance that Britain, whose main trading partner is Europe, would fall back into recession within the next 12 months.

Economists predicted Japan’s economy will shrink in the fiscal year to next March thanks to the yen’s relentless strength as well as supply chain disruptions from a devastating earthquake earlier this year.

But the US economy, the world’s biggest, probably picked up speed in the last few months and will grow moderately in 2012, staving off the need for additional stimulus from the US Federal Reserve.

US growth was expected to average 2.1% next year, unchanged from November’s poll, and more than half the economists polled said they do not expect the Fed to undertake another round of quantitative easing next year, known as “QE3".

“It’s still this very gradual recovery, picking up a little bit more steam, but not really making up a lot of the ground that was lost in the labor market," said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James.

A surprise drop in the unemployment rate last month to 8.6%, as well as relatively strong consumer spending has buoyed growth expectations for the current quarter, with forecasts revised up.

But GDP growth is expected to slow sharply to 1.8% in the first quarter, providing scant relief to US President Barack Obama ahead of an election year.

At its annual policy-setting conference Beijing delivered a series of commitments to deliver economic stability, laying out a blueprint for the world’s second-biggest economy in the year ahead. It promised to keep monetary policy “prudent", fiscal policy “pro-active" and consumer prices stable.

Deep Pockets

Major central banks have slashed interest rates to record lows and pumped trillions of dollars into the money supply in an attempt to heat up tepid growth.

The European Central Bank (ECB) -- which hiked interest rates earlier this year before performing an about-turn -- is seen cutting them to a record low of 0.75% early next year.

Across the Channel, the Bank of England -- which has already cut rates to 0.5% -- is seen increasing its asset purchase programme next year by an additional £75 billion.

Analysts expect the Bank of Japan to stick to its ultra-easy monetary policy until the end of the fiscal year to March 2013 at least and also see a chance of further easing steps.

The BOJ has expressed its readiness to offer additional stimulus if its scenario of a moderate recovery is threatened.

“There is a possibility the BOJ will ease policy in January-March if share prices tumble and the yen further appreciates on the back of overseas dismay," said Yoshiki Shinke, a senior economist at Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute.

In that case, “The BOJ may top up its asset buying scheme or it may change what it buys in the scheme."