Economic gloom piles pressure on G7 finance talks

Economic gloom piles pressure on G7 finance talks

Marseille, France: G7 finance chiefs meet on Friday under heavy pressure to take action to revive flagging economic growth in rich nations and to calm the biggest confidence crisis in financial markets since the global credit crunch.

Host country France has called for a coordinated response from the Group of Seven industrialised nations after mounting anxiety over Europe’s debt crisis and the fragility of its banks caused a big fall in world stock markets in recent weeks.

Differences between the economic problems facing the United States, Britain and euro zone states are complicating the task though, meaning one-size-fits-all solutions will not work.

A source in Brussels said this week the G7 would likely agree to keep monetary policy accommodative, slow fiscal consolidation in states where that is possible, and implement structural reforms.

No communique will be issued after the talks, something French finance minister Francois Baroin said would make for freer discussions. He told the daily Le Figaro each G7 country should adopt economic measures to suit its situation.

“In terms of the direction to take between stimulus and budgetary consolidation, some are in favour of a uniform action," Baroin said. “For my part, my tendency is to look for what is most adapted to each country’s situation."

The G7 finance ministers and central bankers will sit down from mid-afternoon in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, with the faltering economic recovery, the euro zone debt crisis and the stability of the banking sector the issues of the day.

A working dinner will be followed by briefings from around 9:15 pm local time by the French, German and Japanese delegations and European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet. IMF chief Christine Lagarde will give a briefing on Saturday.

US, OECD Want Strong Signals

US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner said ahead of the talks that it was “imperative" to bolster growth and the OECD called for “strong signals" from the G7 and urged central banks to keep interest rates low and consider other forms of monetary easing.

With Asian economies deeply concerned about the west’s debt crisis and slow growth, Japan is also expected to speak out on the euro zone debt crisis and may also voice concerns over the strength of the yen and reserve the right to unilateral action.

A Morgan Stanley research note speculated central bankers might announce some kind of coordinated monetary easing.

But while decisions by the European and British central banks on Thursday to keep interest rates unchanged accentuated the gloom in Europe, neither indicated that a move was imminent.

Fears the global economy may have entered its most difficult period since the 2008 collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers have added significance to Friday’s talks but there has been little evidence of urgent, coordinated action by policymakers so far.

While Europe wants to keep its commitment to austerity, the United States is closer to the International Monetary Fund’s position that fiscal stimulus is needed.

President Barack Obama announced a $447 billion jobs package of tax cuts and government spending on Thursday that attempts to jump start the stalled economic recovery and avert another recession.

In a Financial Times opinion piece on Thursday, the US treasury secretary Geithner said that while a repeat of the massive coordinated fiscal stimulus efforts of 2009 was not possible, decisive action was needed to deal with a bleakening in the rich world’s growth outlook.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forecast on Thursday that growth across the G7 economies would average 1.6% on an annualised basis in the third quarter and slow to just 0.2% in the last quarter of 2011, a sharp slowdown from its May outlook.

“With respect to three months back the growth scenario looks much worse, one would say that growth is stagnating," said OECD chief economist Pier Carlo Padoan.

Expectations High

The G7 has struggled to retain significance since the larger G20, which includes major emerging market powers like China and Brazil, assumed prominence in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The G20 meets later this month in Washington at the same time as the annual autumn meetings of the IMF and World Bank.

Many economists argue that radical solutions to global problems require these emerging powers to boost their domestic economic growth or take part in a monetary stimulus themselves.

At the same time, being smaller means the G7 can agree more swiftly on action where needed, and expectations were running high in markets of a strong statement or action plan.

Geithner said in his op-ed in the Financial Times that the United States must strengthen employment, Europe must act more forcefully to quell its debt crisis, and China and other emerging markets should strengthen domestic demand and allow their currencies to rise more rapidly.

He acknowledged that some governments with high deficits and high borrowing costs have no choice but to consolidate their fiscal positions, while others have room to take more action to support growth or at least slow their fiscal consolidation.

The OECD’s Padoan said G7 finance chiefs risked sending the wrong signal if they did not use Marseille as an opportunity to indicate they are ready to take action if growth slows further.

Morgan Stanley economists Manoj Pradhan and Joachim Fels said in their research note that fiscal easing would be the most effective, but the burden was instead on central banks to stimulate growth because government finances are in such weak state.

“Monetary easing might come as soon as this weekend’s G7 meeting as part of a coordinated effort -- akin to October 2008, when seven central banks cut their policy rates together in the aftermath of the Lehman bankruptcy," they wrote.

The OECD said that while public finances were too weak in many countries to provide a fiscal boost, those countries in a stronger position should consider more easing if the slowdown proves long-lasting.