WASHINGTON — The International Monetary Fund warned Wednesday that severe fallout from the terrorist attacks in the United States could trigger a growth recession worldwide. But the 183-nation lending agency insisted that this outcome could still be avoided by aggressive government policy actions to stimulate growth.
IMF chief economist Kenneth Rogoff called a recession in the United States a “done deal.” However, later in his briefing he sought to soften that comment by saying it was still too early to tell whether the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would push the already weak U.S. economy into a full blown recession.
Rogoff said the real question was whether the United States had entered a sustained recession or would bounce back quickly.
Rogoff said there was “every reason” to believe the U.S. economy would enjoy a quick rebound next year, noting that the Federal Reserve has been cutting interest rates aggressively all year and Congress has approved billions of dollars in increased funding for reconstruction and to help cushion the economic fallout at U.S. airlines.
The global economy was already flirting with recession because of a longer-than-expected slowdown in the United States and spreading weakness around the world, the IMF said in its latest “World Economic Outlook” forecast.
Even before the Sept. 11 attacks, the IMF had slashed its global growth forecast to just 2.6 percent for this year. That would be the poorest showing since 1993 and down 0.6 percentage point from a May forecast of 3.2 percent growth for 2001.
In the view of economists, global growth below 2.5 percent constitutes a growth recession because economic activity at that pace is not strong enough to keep unemployment from rising substantially in parts of the world with high population growth.
The IMF said even its reduced figure of 2.6 percent may not be realized depending on the severity of the fallout from the terrorist attack which Rogoff said was having “a negative effect on activity now in many regions of the globe.”
Rogoff said that there are reasons to be optimistic that a global recession can be avoided. He cited the sizable government stimulus that has been injected through interest rate cuts in the United States and many other countries and large increases in U.S. spending for reconstruction and increased security.
For that reason, Rogoff said, the IMF would not be changing its reduced 2.6 percent growth forecast for this year or its projection of 3.5 percent growth for 2002.
He conceded that actual growth in 2002 is likely to be rather lower than 3.5 percent.
The IMF compared the attacks to the costliest natural disaster in modern history, the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan. That quake caused over 6,400 deaths, 35,000 injuries and property damage of $120 billion, or about 2.5 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product.
The direct impact of the Kobe quake on the Japanese economy was larger than that of the attacks on the American economy, the IMF said. The total effect of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. economy could be more far-reaching, particularly if shaken consumer confidence does not rebound, it said.
“Since the terrorist attack was a deliberate action with long-term security implications, the effects on consumer psychology may well not be comparable,” the IMF said.
The IMF’s latest “World Economic Outlook” described unusually large uncertainties and risks facing industrialized countries and the developing world.
“There is now no major region providing support to global activity,” the IMF said. “This has increased the vulnerability of the global economy to shocks and heightened the risk of a self-reinforcing downturn whose consequences could prove difficult to predict.”
For the United States, the IMF projected the GDP would grow a weak 1.3 percent this year, 0.2 percentage point lower than its May forecast. For 2002, the IMF forecast U.S. growth would rebound slightly to 2.2 percent. The U.S. economy grew 4.1 percent in 2000.
The IMF’s outlook for Japan, the world’s second-largest economy, was even gloomier. Japan is probably already in its fourth recession of the decade, the IMF said in projecting Japan’s GDP would shrink by 0.5 percent this year and manage only a tiny 0.2 percent gain in 2002.
For Germany, the largest economy in Europe, the IMF put growth this year at 0.8 percent, 1.1 percentage point below its May projection. It forecast Germany would grow by 1.8 percent next year.
The 12 European nations that have adopted the euro as a joint currency will see growth of 1.8 percent this year and 2.2 percent in 2002, the IMF estimated.
The IMF said it expected China’s economy would grow by 7.5 percent this year, up by 0.5 percentage point from the May forecast, and by 7.1 percent in 2002.
Growth in developing countries was expected to be 4.3 percent this year and 5.3 percent in 2002. Last year, the developing world managed growth of 5.8 percent.