IMF warns of rising risks to global growth amid trade tensions

In this file photo taken on April 17, 2018 Maurice Obstfeld, Economic Counsellor and Director of the Research Department at the IMF, holds a press briefing on the World Economic Outlook during the 2018 Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group at IMF Headquarters in Washington, DC. (AFP)
Updated 16 July 2018
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IMF warns of rising risks to global growth amid trade tensions

  • Worsening trade confrontations pose serious risks to the outlook, the IMF said
  • The fund warns growth could be cut by a half point by 2020 if tariff threats are carried out

WASHINGTON: The global economy is still expected to grow at a solid pace this year, but worsening trade confrontations pose serious risks to the outlook, the International Monetary Fund said Monday.
The IMF’s updated World Economic Outlook (WEO) forecast global growth of 3.9 percent this year and next, despite sharp downgrades to estimates for Germany, France and Japan.
The US economy is still seen growing by 2.9 percent this year, and the estimate for China remains 6.6 percent, with little impact expected near term from the tariffs on tens of billions of dollars in exports the countries have imposed on each other so far.
“But the risk that current trade tensions escalate further — with adverse effects on confidence, asset prices, and investment — is the greatest near-term threat to global growth,” IMF Chief Economist Maurice Obstfeld said.
The fund warns growth could be cut by a half point by 2020 if tariff threats are carried out.
Although the global recovery is in its second year, growth has “plateaued” and become less balanced, and “the risk of worse outcomes has increased,” Obstfeld said in a statement.
The report comes as US President Donald Trump has imposed steep tariffs duties on $34 billion in imports from China, with another $200 billion coming as soon as September, on top of duties on steel and aluminum from around the world including key allies.
China has matched US tariffs dollar for dollar and threatened to take other steps to retaliate, while US exports face retaliatory taxes from Canada, Mexico and the European Union.
“An escalation of trade tensions could undermine business and financial market sentiment, denting investment and trade,” the IMF report said.
In addition, “higher trade barriers would make tradable goods less affordable, disrupt global supply chains, and slow the spread of new technologies, thus lowering productivity.”
The IMF said growth prospects are below average in many countries and urged governments to take steps to ensure economic growth will continue.
The fund said global cooperation and a “rule-based trade system has a vital role to play in preserving the global expansion.”
However, without steps to “ensure the benefits are shared by all, disenchantment with existing economic arrangements could well fuel further support for growth-detracting inward-looking policies.”
The sweeping US tax cuts approved in December will help the economy “strengthen temporarily,” but growth is expected to moderate to 2.7 percent for 2019.
And while the fiscal stimulus will boost US demand, is also will increase inflationary pressures, the WEO warned.
China’s growth also is seen slowing in 2019 to 6.4 percent.
After upgrading growth projections for the euro area in the April WEO, the IMF revised them down by two-tenths in 2018 to 2.2 percent, due to “negative surprises to activity in early 2018,” and another tenth in 2019 to 1.9 percent.
The estimates for Germany, France and Italy were cut by 0.3 points each, with Germany seen expanding by 2.2 percent this year and 2.1 percent in 2019. France’s GDP is expected to grow 1.8 percent and 1.7 percent.
Meanwhile, Britain is now forecast to grow 1.4 percent this year, 0.2 points less than the April estimate, and 1.5 percent in 2019.
Japan’s GDP is seen slowing to 1.0 percent this year, two-tenths less than previously forecast, “following a contraction in the first quarter, owing to weak private consumption and investment.” It should grow 0.9 percent the following year.
India remains a key drivers of global growth, but the GDP outlook was cut one-tenth for this year and three-tenths for next year to 7.3 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively.
Brazil saw an even sharper 0.5-point downward revisions from the April forecast, to 1.8 percent this year.


HSBC plans more China tech jobs in push for market share

Updated 5 min 19 sec ago
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HSBC plans more China tech jobs in push for market share

  • Europe’s biggest bank by assets will boost headcount at its technology centers in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Xi’an by 14 percent
  • HSBC’s expansion plan in China comes amid growing use of technology in the financial sector — from payments to transactions
HONG KONG: HSBC plans to add more than 1,000 jobs this year at its technology development centers in China, as the Asia-focused lender seeks to bolster its presence in the world’s second largest economy.
Europe’s biggest bank by assets will boost headcount at its technology centers in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Xi’an by 14 percent from a current 7,000-strong workforce, said HSBC Chief Information Officer Darryl West.
In recent years the London-based bank has spent $3 billion annually on its group technology operations which employ 40,000 people worldwide, and West said annual investments of $3-$3.5 billion are planned over the next few years.
Many global banks set up low-cost hubs in China and India more than a decade ago to maintain their complex worldwide information technology networks, but these centers have now become a core part of their operations.
The centers develop and implement risk and fraud management technologies, as well as digital applications that make it easier for banks to attract customers and deliver faster and more secure services.
HSBC’s expansion plan in China, a key market for the bank, comes amid growing use of technology in the financial sector — from payments to transactions.
At stake is a bigger share of the billions of dollars worth of retail and corporate banking business in a major financial market with a growing customer base.
“There is a lot more we can do with technology in mainland China. The level of technology adoption and innovation in China is way ahead of other markets,” West told reporters during a tour of HSBC’s technology center in the southern city of Guangzhou last week.
“We see mainland China as a tremendous source of talent, not just for the local market but our technology operations globally. We are hiring very aggressively here,” he added.
About 30 percent of the work done at the Guangzhou center, the largest HSBC tech facility in China with more than 5,000 employees, is for the mainland market and that share is expected to grow over the next couple of years.
HSBC is also using China-based tech centers to develop banking products for its global network, such as the bank’s UK mobile app which was developed in the northwestern city of Xi’an.
Outside China, HSBC employs more than 10,000 people at technology centers in India, with the rest in countries such as Britain, Canada, Hong Kong and the United States.
HSBC has in recent years lifted investment in China, including the prosperous southern Pearl River Delta region. Mainland China and Hong Kong together accounted for nearly 40 percent of the bank’s revenue in 2018.
The bank will invest $15-$17 billion in the next three years in areas including technology and China, its Chief Executive John Flint said last year.
The limited physical presence of foreign banks in China compared to dominant domestic rivals has been a challenge.
HSBC’s losses in retail banking and wealth management (RBWM) in mainland China widened to $200 million last year from $44 million in 2017. The bank aimed to reverse that with its investments in technology.
“Things like that, we see as very important for the next phase of our business growth ... once the major investments have gone in, RBWM will grow bigger and also profitable,” said HSBC Greater China Chief Executive Helen Wong.